By JAY COHEN
CHICAGO — Maybe it was the extra rest, or another raucous crowd at the United Center. Maybe it was just the resumption of one of the NHL’s biggest rivalries.
Whatever it was, the Chicago Blackhawks finally found that extra gear they talked about for days.
Johnny Oduya and Marcus Kruger scored in the third period, Corey Crawford made 20 saves and the Blackhawks beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 in the opener of their second-round playoff series Wednesday night.
“Much better from our prior series,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I thought what we’re talking about in our team game was in place. Had some pace, had some speed, zone time, and I thought everybody contributed.”
In the wake of Chicago’s five-game victory over Minnesota in the first round, Quenneville talked about a higher level of intensity, and each of his biggest stars echoed his comments. The response was a dominant final two periods in the Blackhawks’ first game in the Western Conference semifinals since they won the Stanley Cup in 2010.
Marian Hossa had the opening goal in the first, and Patrick Sharp finished with an empty-netter and two assists to give him nine points in the postseason.
“I thought it was our best game of the playoffs, no question,” Sharp said.
Jimmy Howard had 38 stops in a terrific performance, but Detroit still lost to rival Chicago for the eighth straight time dating to last season.
“I think in the first it was pretty even, but then I think in the second and third they looked like they had a little more energy than we did,” Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “It’s going to be nice to have a day off tomorrow and practice and then looking forward to Game 2.”
The series resumes on Saturday afternoon at the United Center.
The 75th all-time playoff game between the Blackhawks and Red Wings was tied at 1 after two periods, and Howard made a great stop on a breakaway by Dave Bolland 4½ minutes into the third.
Chicago kept working and went in front to stay on a heady play by Oduya. He drifted in from the point and sent Sharp’s pass past Howard on the glove side with 12 minutes left.
“Getting the win is the only thing that actually matters,” Oduya said. “Like I said, anyone could have scored that goal at that point. We had a lot of chances and I’m lucky I got it in there.”
Kruger then jumped on a loose puck and sent a backhander into the upper right corner to make it 3-1. That was more than enough for Crawford, who caught a break when Damien Brunner’s rebound attempt went off the crossbar and straight down before Brent Seabrook swept it away with about three minutes left.
The opener of the 16th playoff series between the Original Six teams was the first game for Chicago since it eliminated Minnesota last Thursday. Detroit closed out Anaheim with a 3-2 win in Game 7 on Sunday night, taking the final two games of the series against the second-seeded Ducks.
Despite the long break, there was no sign of rust for the Blackhawks. The Red Wings skated right with Chicago at the start, but they couldn’t keep up at the end of the game and coach Mike Babcock said they were looking forward to a day off.
“We’re not trying to take anything away from them,” he said. “They were better than us. The score tonight was more than fair as far as I’m concerned. They were better.”
The Blackhawks struck first in the first playoff game between the teams since Detroit won the 2009 Western Conference final. With Gustav Nyquist in the box for hooking, Sharp forced a turnover along the boards and Jonathan Toews sent the puck to Hossa, who one-timed it past Howard at 9:03.
Detroit needed less than two minutes to respond, tying it when Brunner poked in a rebound for his third career playoff goal. The rookie center also contributed three assists in the first round against the Ducks.
The Blackhawks killed off two power plays created by penalties on Andrew Shaw. They killed off another one when Nick Leddy was sent off for delay of game in the second period, making them a perfect 20 for 20 on the penalty kill in the postseason and sinking Detroit to 1 for 18 on power plays against Chicago, including the regular season.
“We know that we’re a much better team than this,” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “The second and third period were not nearly good enough. We know we’re better than this, so we have to find to get better here for Game 2.”