Kings handle Blackhawks, now one win from Final
May 27, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings have put together two dominant Game 7s in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They scored six straight goals in a game in this series.
What transpired Monday at Staples Center was not the best performance by the Kings during this deep postseason run, but it might have been the most surprising. The defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks were desperate to even the Western Conference Final, and the Kings blew them out.
The Kings scored the first four goals, including two on the power play, and defeated the Blackhawks 5-2 to move to within one victory of the Stanley Cup Final.
"It was good Kings hockey," said defenseman Jake Muzzin, who had a goal and an assist. "We gained some momentum off our penalty kill and were kind of limiting their chances and getting pucks in. We capitalized on a couple of power plays. It kind of set us up for the rest of the game. It was nice."
Los Angeles leads the best-of-7 series 3-1 and will have three chances to win the conference championship for the second time in three seasons. The first attempt will come Wednesday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
The Blackhawks led the series 1-0 and seemed to have Game 2 in control, leading 2-0 late in the second period, before the Kings started rolling. After taking a 4-0 lead Monday, Los Angeles had scored 14 of the past 17 goals.
Chicago has won seven straight series that were 2-2 after four games, but the Blackhawks couldn't get themselves into that position. They did rally from a 3-1 deficit last season to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in the second round.
"It's not a good position to be in," Chicago forward Patrick Kane said. "I think coming into this series you'd be lying if we thought we'd be in this position, but it happens, and we've got no one to blame but ourselves. We're the only ones that are going to get ourselves out of it, so might as well start with Game 5 in Chicago."
Muzzin put the Kings in front 9:00 into the first period on the power play. Tyler Toffoli got the puck to Drew Doughty along the left wall, and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews slipped after trying to defend Toffoli. Doughty sent it to Muzzin at the top of the zone, and he had time to inch closer to the net and pick a corner with his shot while Jeff Carter provided a screen in front of goalie Corey Crawford.
Marian Gaborik made it 2-0 2:13 later. Muzzin broke up a cross-ice pass intended for Kane, who might have had a clear path to the net, then Gaborik nutmegged Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell in the neutral zone to help the Kings gain entry to the offensive zone.
The puck came to Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith in the corner, and he gave it away to Anze Kopitar. The leading point man in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs wheeled away from Keith and sent a pass to the leading goal-scorer, and Gaborik deflected it past goaltender Corey Crawford for his 10th of the playoffs at 11:13.
"Coming into every game, to have that confidence, to have that mojo, that we can win every game, that's the difference with these guys," said Gaborik, who joined the Kings prior to the NHL Trade Deadline. "They won the Cup a couple of years ago. They've been in the conference finals the past three years. It definitely helps to come to this team and be part of the winning culture."
Los Angeles scored another power-play goal at 15:56. Justin Williams kept possession of the puck along the wall and left it for Mike Richards. After a pass to Muzzin at the left point, Williams circled into an open spot in the Chicago defense and directed a pass from Muzzin to Dustin Brown near the left post, where he shoveled an easy one into the net with Crawford out of position.
The Kings scored 12 power-play goals in 20 games en route to the Stanley Cup in 2012, and have converted 16 of 56 opportunities (28.6 percent) since Game 3 of the first round this postseason.
"We're trying to simplify it a little bit. We're just trying to get pucks up to the D-men, trying to get shots that way," Doughty said. "My mentality on the first one, just kind of get a shot off, a one-timer, no matter what it was. If it hits the guy, it hits the guy. Just want to get that in their heads that we're going to be shooting pucks. The more you shoot, the more other things open up. We took advantage of those things."
Doughty made it 4-0 at 12:43 of the second period. Kopitar tried to shoot and was able to corral the blocked attempt and keep possession near the top of the offensive zone. He left it for Doughty, whose wrist shot off his back foot from the right point made it past three bodies in front and fooled Crawford. The assist was Kopitar's 17th (22nd point) of the playoffs.
Brandon Saad scored for the Blackhawks 80 seconds later. Michal Rozsival intercepted a clearing attempt by Kings defenseman Alec Martinez. Rozsival hit Saad near the inside of the right circle, and the Chicago forward snapped a backhand just below the crossbar over goalie Jonathan Quick.
Bryan Bickell cut the lead to 4-2 9:29 into the third period. Toews flubbed a shot with a wide-open net. Doughty got his stick on the second chance, but Bickell was able to steer the third try past Quick.
The Blackhawks won Game 1 at United Center 3-1 and led Game 2 before the Kings scored five times in the third period of a 6-2 victory. Carter had three goals and an assist in the period, then had a goal and two assists in a 4-3 victory in Game 3 at Staples Center.
"Here we are," Toews said. "We've got to give it everything and nothing less. Credit that team, they're a good team, but we know we've got more. We know that there's something else we can bring to the table. We've just got to do some little things here and there to make ourselves feel good and get that confidence, get that swagger back to our game."
Kings coach Darryl Sutter said he wasn't happy with how they played at even strength. Five-on-five play has been the staple of Los Angeles' success for the past three seasons, but the Kings are winning this series on special teams.
Some of Chicago's success at even strength was undoubtedly a result of score effects (every NHL team pushes back when facing a large deficit), but the Kings want to improve after a dominant opening 30 minutes against the Blackhawks.
"Have to play a [heck] of a lot better than we did [Monday]," Sutter said. "I think our 5-on-5 play ... certainly we can certainly do better on. I know we're better at it than we were [Monday]."