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Musick: Home sweet home ice propels Hawks

Published: Sunday, May 18, 2014 8:09 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, May 19, 2014 2:43 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Nam Y. Huh)
Chicago Blackhawks fans celebrates after Duncan Keith scored as Los Angeles Kings' Slava Voynov (26) looks down during the second period in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs in Chicago on Sunday, May 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

CHICAGO – The Blackhawks clung to a one-goal lead late in the third period Sunday against the Los Angeles Kings.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville called a timeout to bark reminders at his players.

Then, just before the Hawks returned to the ice for a faceoff in their defensive zone, a familiar voice blasted from the speakers atop the United Center.

“CHICAGOOOO!”

The one-word audio clip was unmistakable. The deep, slurred voice belonged to Patrick Kane from when he joyously stepped to the microphone and greeted throngs of fans during the 2010 Stanley Cup championship parade.

On Sunday, a sellout crowd of 21,832 fans went bonkers in response to the throwback clip. They screamed until the next faceoff, and before too long, the Hawks had increased their lead to 3-1 to seize Game 1 of the Western Conference final.

Well played, Hawks.

Nicely done, Hawks fans.

“That’s a fun building to play in,” Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said as he sat in front of his locker after the game. “Use the crowd to our advantage. (We’ve) always taken pride in being here.

“At the same time, you want to win on the road, too.”

Well, yeah, of course. But let’s focus on home ice for a moment.

The Hawks are 7-0 on home ice during the playoffs. They went three for three against the St. Louis Blues, three for three against the Minnesota Wild and now they’re one for one against the Kings.

Look back toward last season, and the Hawks’ home-ice success is downright scary. In their past 20 playoff games on home ice, the Hawks are a whopping 18-2.

What is it about this place?

Home-field advantage understandably makes a difference in baseball, where home teams get the last at-bat and dimensions vary for everything from the size of the outfield to the amount of foul territory. And home-field advantage is huge in the NFL, where deafening crowd noise can prompt opponents to jump offsides.

But what gives with hockey? The rink size is exactly the same in Chicago as it is in Los Angeles. With slight variations, the temperature of the building is about the same, the quality of the ice is about the same, and the boards are about the same.

Yet the Hawks play at home as if they’re the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

“We come out flying at home,” said Hawks forward Brandon Saad, who scored the game’s opening goal on a perfect deflection. “We play with that pace.”

That pace, as you know, has helped the Hawks to win two titles in four years.

Maybe you’re one of those people who shrug at home-ice statistics, insisting that the Hawks’ success has 100 percent to do with the players on the roster. Although those players are great, they’re the first to admit that the crowd makes a difference.

“The crowd has been unbelievable,” Hawks defenseman Nick Leddy said. “That helps out a lot. It helps out for momentum, and momentum is huge in the playoffs.”

Hawks forward Bryan Bickell agreed. A side bonus for Bickell: Instead of going back to a hotel, like the Kings did Sunday, he could drive home to his wife and two dogs.

“To get the first one under our belt and have that home-ice status still, it’s important,” Bickell said. “We started the series off right. We have to adjust a couple of things, but we’re looking forward to Wednesday’s game.”

We all know where that game will take place.

Sweet home, Chicagoooo.

•  Tom Musick can be reached at editorial@shawmedia.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.

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