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Blackhawks lose Game 1 to Golden Knights, but Jeremy Colliton plans to stick with conservative approach

The Hawks employed a more structured, low-risk strategy against the Knights on Tuesday than against the Oilers last week. Despite the loss, the team remains confident in the approach.

William Carrier pokes the Knights’ second goal of the game past Corey Crawford’s pad.
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

Through one lens, the Blackhawks mustered very little offense, lost the crucial goaltending battle and played right into the Golden Knights’ hands in their 4-1 Game 1 loss Tuesday.

Through another lens, the Hawks adopted the structured, conservative style they’ll need to grind out a win against a deeper, heavily favored Knights team, and just didn’t get the breaks they needed Tuesday.

Coach Jeremy Colliton’s iconic eyeglasses were certainly looking through the latter lenses after the game.

“We know it’s going to be a grind,” Colliton said. “They’re an excellent team. They’re going to make you work for your chances, and we’ve got to make them work for theirs. I thought, for the most part, we did that. We’ve got to understand that’s what’s required to win.”

Some facts from the Hawks’ loss are undeniable.

Fact: Corey Crawford allowed two goals that he should’ve saved — including an innocent, unscreened Reilly Smith shot that bounced up off his blocker and into the net, breaking the game open for the Knights in the third period. He also allowed two more that weren’t really on him.

Fact: Former Hawks-turned-Knights goalie Robin Lehner, despite a few strange skate malfunctions, easily outplayed him.

Fact: The Hawks mustered only 20 shots on goal, tied for their fewest in any game in this season.

Fact: The Hawks also hit the post at least three times, including a Patrick Kane snipe and a Jonathan Toews rebound lift that will go in most of the time.

The interpretation of those facts moving forward — and the decision whether to stick with the defense-first style or pivot back to the offense-first aggression they successfully employed against the Oilers — will ultimately determine the course of the series.

And the Hawks made it clear after Tuesday’s game that they plan to stick with the conservative style.

“[The Knights] play a different game than the Oilers, obviously,” Calvin de Haan said. “They’re a very structured, simple team [that plays] a heavy game. You’ve got to tip your hat sometimes; they played well as a squad. But we’ve just got to keep getting pucks deep, try to get in on their ‘D’ and make it hard for them to get out of their zone.”

“Edmonton has some really high-end players, and with their speed, it kind of breaks down the structure of the game,” Colliton added. “Vegas is different team. It was a more controlled situation, and we were fine for a lot of the game.”

After an uneventful first period, the Knights took the upper hand for good in the second period with goals from Shea Theodore and William Carrier just over two minutes apart.

Great efforts by Brandon Saad and David Kampf created a shorthanded goal that kept the Hawks within reach until Smith erupted in the third period, part of a “seven-minute stretch” in which Colliton said the Hawks grew impatient, deviated from their game plan and buried themselves.

“We were trying to push to create a chance out of nothing [during that stretch],” Colliton said. “We’ve got to have numbers back, we’ve got to make sure we’re above them in transition. You may play shifts where nothing happens, and that’s just part of it...but if you stick with it long enough and put pressure on the puck, we forced our turnovers, we got our chances.”

The Hawks’ unshaken optimism shouldn’t be confused with satisfaction. They made it clear Tuesday’s effort wasn’t their ideal implementation of their game plan.

But they definitely remain committed to the same conservative tactical plan heading toward Thursday’s Game 2.

“We have a great opportunity here. The first game is under our belts,” Duncan Keith said. “We’re right there. It’s one game. I don’t think we’re happy with the game, but we know that we can be better.”