Anze Kopitar tries to protect the puck from Niklas Hjalmarsson behind the net during the Chicago Blackhawks' 2-1 win over the Kings in Game 1 of the Western Conference final at United Center on June 1st. 2013. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

Anze Kopitar tries to protect the puck from Niklas Hjalmarsson behind the net during the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2-1 win over the Kings in Game 1 of the Western Conference final at United Center on June 1st, 2013. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Western Conference final got under way in Chicago today between the Kings and Blackhawks, and the Kings received a boost for it, as Jarret Stoll returned to the lineup. Stoll took a high hit from Raffi Torres late in the first period of Game 1 against the San Jose Sharks in the last round, left the game and didn’t play again in the series, despite it going the distance. Torres was suspended for the remainder of the series for the hit that supposedly caused Stoll to suffer a concussion and separated shoulder. The Kings dearly missed Stoll on faceoffs against the Sharks. Stoll returned to his regular role as the centre on the third line, which caused Trevor Lewis to move over to right wing on that line, which caused Dwight King to move over to left wing on that line, which caused Kyle Clifford to move down to Tyler Toffoli’s spot as right wing on the fourth line with Brad Richardson and Colin Fraser, as Toffoli’s lineup spot was taken by Stoll. I would have taken Fraser out, but as I mentioned in my post after the Robyn Regehr contract extension, Darryl Sutter has his favourites.

The Blackhawks came out strong, and just over eight minutes into the first period, Clifford headed to the penalty box for closing his hand on the puck. However, shortly into the power play, Andrew Shaw took a penalty for interference, setting up almost two minutes of 4-on-4 play before a very brief Kings power play. Just over a minute after Shaw’s penalty expired, Dustin Penner took a roughing penalty, but the Kings were able to kill it off. Shortly after, with just under six minutes to go in the first period, Dave Bolland tried to clear the puck from just above the crease to the right side of Corey Crawford, but it hit the stick of Justin Williams right in front of him who was skating by from the slot, and it deflected and beat a surprised Crawford by his left pad, as there was nothing he could do about that. The Kings took the lead into the first intermission, but they were not nearly good enough in the opening frame, as they were outshot by a total of 17-2. Seriously.

The Kings looked a little bit better in the second period (it would have been hard for them to be much worse), but it was still the ‘Hawks controlling the play. With just under eight minutes to go in the period, from the circle to Crawford’s right in the Chicago zone, former King Michal Handzus passed the puck to the left side of the Chicago neutral zone to Patrick Sharp, who skated into the Kings zone, left the puck for Johnny Oduya, who took a slap shot from the top of the left circle by the boards, Jonathan Quick made the stop with his left pad, but the rebound kicked out to the slot right to Sharp, who buried it before Quick could get over. Shortly after, the ‘Hawks got a chance to take the lead, as Penner went off for elbowing. The Kings killed it off, but not even two minutes later, from behind the Kings net to Quick’s right, Bryan Bickell backhanded the puck off the boards to Duncan Keith at the left point, and he took a slap shot that was redirected by Marian Hossa’s stick right in front of Quick, came down and beat him by his left pad. Mike Richards failed to tie Hossa’s stick up on the play, and shot the puck away in disgust with himself after the goal. It was a rough day for Richards. The Blackhawks held a 14-12 edge in shots in a middle frame where they once again controlled the play, and they took the lead into the second intermission.

The Kings got a chance to tie the game just over seven minutes into the third period, as Nick Leddy went off for tripping, but they were unable to capitalize, though they did actually look alright on it. With just under two minutes to go in the period, Sutter was presumably going to pull Quick soon for an extra attacker, but a Jeff Carter tripping penalty threw a wrench in those plans, and sealed the win for Chicago. The Kings did hold an 8-5 edge in shots in the final frame, but still did not really at any point look like they were controlling the play. More bad news was, shortly before Carter’s penalty, Richards took a high hit from Bolland and looked to be in a bit of trouble. Hopefully Richards will be fine, because if he’s going to miss any time, that’s obviously a significant loss for the Kings, as a team already desperate for offense would be losing their leading scorer in these playoffs. We’ll see if Bolland receives any supplemental discipline. His feet didn’t appear to leave the ice before he made contact, but it was tough to tell if the head was the principle point of contact and if his elbow was what made initial contact. We’ll see what the NHL saw on the play.

Wait a second. The Kings lost a road playoff game by a score of 2-1? You don’t say… It’s not like that’s now happened four straight times and in seven of their last eight. Oh, wait, it has. The Kings continue to not be able to generate any sort of offense on the road, and not only that, but they were dominated today. The Kings do not have home-ice advantage in this series, so unlike in the last series against San Jose, they will not be able to get away with not winning on the road. Even if the Kings win all three of their home games — by no means a guarantee — they still have to find a way to win a game in Chicago. The good news is they have three more chances to do so, and their next one is tomorrow, as these two teams will get right back at it. It’s a very big game for the Kings, as being tied 1-1 going home is a lot better than being down 2-0 in the series. The Kings were able to come back from losing the first two games in St. Louis in their first-round series against the Blues, but coming back from that deficit again is asking a lot, especially against the Blackhawks. Either way, stay tuned for my post-game reaction after Game 2 tomorrow, but for now, it’s time for my picks for tonight’s three stars.

Third Star: Jonathan Quick.

Possibly the only King who showed up tonight. The Kings really don’t need to score many goals or even play that well the way Quick is playing, but they still can’t do enough to get the win. Quick made 34 saves tonight, and really didn’t stand a chance on either goal. Considering the rebound he kicked out on Sharp’s goal was off of a shot right to his pad, I don’t know what else he could have done with that. Obviously there was nothing he could do with the Hossa tip, really.

Second Star: Marian Hossa.

Many Blackhawks had great performances tonight, but Hossa stood out. He was all over the ice, creating a lot for himself and his teammates, and was even playing a strong physical brand of hockey. He got rewarded with the game-winning goal, too, as he used great hand-eye coordination on his redirect.

First Star: Patrick Sharp.

The Blackhawks were dominating, but over halfway through the game, they were trailing. Well, Sharp had something to say about that. He started into the Kings zone, made a smart drop pass to Oduya, headed straight to the net and made no mistake when the rebound came right out to him. Sharp stood out tonight for many of the same reasons Hossa did, and that goal he scored was huge, as it ended the frustration of the ‘Hawks and got the ball rolling in their favour.

Follow me on Twitter, @Jack_Weber_.

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