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Blackhawks’ speed, skill kill

Updated: June 3, 2013 12:18PM

Well, this certainly is easy.

At this rate, the Blackhawks are going to win the Western Conference finals in three games, if not 2½.

Now, I know the Hawks will be horrified anyone would suggest such a thing, and of course I make that statement in jest because it takes four victories to win a playoff series, unless, you know, the Kings decide to forfeit. Wait, they wouldn’t do that, would they?

Just as rock beats scissors, speed beats tough-guy stuff in hockey. That’s why the Hawks trounced the Kings 4-2 on Sunday night, why they lead this series 2-0 and why the lasting image of
Game 2 was of Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick, the best goalie in the NHL, skating shell-shocked off the ice in favor of a replacement in the second period.

The Hawks’ skating, passing and creativity were much more powerful than any of the unpleasantness the Kings had in mind for the home team. L.A. outhit the Hawks 23-10 in the first period alone, yet still trailed 2-0 on the scoreboard. That’s how it was.

“We’re moving the puck well, we’re getting the puck behind them and we’re using our skating ability to get pucks down in their zone and create plays,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said.

The Hawks were bracing for a Los Angeles pushback almost immediately after Game 1. They had played the Kings’ physical style Saturday, had in fact out-punished them, and surely there would be a reckoning.

More “physicality,’’ the Kings’ Dustin Penner had promised. “Physicality’’ is defined as “a predominance of the physical usually at the expense of the mental, spiritual or social.’’ Is that what Penner meant? Or did he mean, “Let’s beat the crap out of the Hawks’’? I’d say the latter.

Late in the first period, the Kings’ Dustin Brown sent Michal Rozsival to the ice with a huge hit. Oh, so that’s how it was going to be. But as it turned out, the best answer to all that “physicality’’ was not a tooth for a tooth but exceptional skating and passing. The Hawks would hit when necessary, but mostly they would zoom past the Kings at every opportunity. Jumping out to a 4-0 lead was the result.

Viktor Stalberg made a beautiful backhanded pass on Andrew Shaw’s first-period goal, raising the question, “Tell me again why coach Joel Quenneville sat Stalberg early in the Detroit series?’’ That decision was so mind-boggling, Coach Q should have had his “upper body’’ examined.

Another slick backhanded pass, this one from Marian Hossa, set up Brent Seabrook’s wicked slap shot in the last minute of the first period to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead. That kind of imagination, that kind of teamwork can offset the toughest tough stuff. I don’t mean to imply the Hawks are a colony of sensitive artists. They can hit and take hits. Quenneville called goalie Corey Crawford’s decision to come to Toews’ rescue during some third-period nastiness “spontaneous combustion.’’

“[The Kings’ Kyle Clifford] grabbed him, got a couple of free shots,’’ Crawford said. “I figured it was enough. I just decided to go in there and grab his head.”

We’ll allow it but with the understanding that speed is the answer to almost anything in hockey.

Crawford was good again, just as he has been throughout the playoffs, just as he had been during the regular season. The United Center crowd chanted his name after a nice second-period save on Tyler Toffoli. He has come a long way, and fans have met him halfway.

“Pretty cool,’’ he said of the chanting.

The Hawks’ problem early in the Detroit series was that it took them a game to react to what the Red Wings did. Henrik Zetterberg committed bodily assault on Toews in Game 2 of that series but instead of stopping the crime in progress, they waited until after the game to vow to get physical. Why the slow reaction time? It’s like having a lit match put to your hand but not saying “ouch’’ until the next day.

That’s why this game was so important for the Hawks. How would they react to the punch they knew was coming? By skating. By cycling the puck. By keeping almost constant pressure on Quick.

Two more goals in the second period, by Bryan Bickell and Michal Handzus, were enough to make Kings coach Darryl Sutter pull Quick in favor of Jonathan Bernier. What a sight that was. No one could have predicted it.

The Kings are undefeated at home in the playoffs. So forget about the Hawks-in-three talk. For now.

“We know it’s going to get tougher and tougher,’’ Toews said.

Is it though?

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