Fueled by a lethal power play, balanced scoring and a stifling, lock-down defense, the Los Angeles Kings beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 Monday night at the Staples Center. With the win, the Kings extended their series lead to 3-1, pushing the defending champs to the brink of elimination.
“It was good Kings hockey,” explained defenseman Jake Muzzin, the second star of the game with 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.”
“We’re still alive in this series,” said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. “No time to feel sorry for ourselves. Teams have come back from this situation, even this group. We just have to go do it.”
The brink is nothing new for either team
Being perched on the brink of elimination is eerily familiar for both the Kings and the Blackhawks.
For the Kings, they’ve made a living during these playoffs in elimination games, generally as the ones looking up from the abyss. They made history in the first round, becoming only the fourth team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit to emerge victorious. Against the Anaheim Ducks in round two, they faced a 3-2 series disadvantage before winning the final two games, the latter on the road at the Honda Center.
The Blackhawks fell behind 2-0 against the St. Louis Blues in the first round, winning the last four games. More significantly, however, was their seven-game triumph over the Detroit Red Wings last year, one which saw them win the last four games after falling behind 3-1. “We were in the same position last year,” said Patrick Kane, who has just one assist in the series. “You can look back at that and say, ‘We came out and were successful so why can’t we do it again?’ It’s tough with the position we’re in right now, but at the same time we still feel good about our team in here and we all know we’ve done it before. You have to have that confidence of trying to win the next game and see what happens.”
The Kings jumped all over the Hawks
Both teams emphasized the importance of starting the game well, but only Los Angeles accomplished that task, bolting to a quick 3-0 advantage before the game was sixteen minutes old. Jake Muzzin’s wrister from the slot with Marian Hossa in the box opened the scoring, and just 2:13 later, Marian Gaborik scored his 10th goal of the postseason, deflecting an Anze Kopitar feed past Corey Crawford. The third goal of the period was a textbook tic-tac-toe play between Muzzin, Justin Williams and Dustin Brown, who batted the puck into the net for his third goal of these playoffs.
The three-goal barrage can be seen below:
Chicago came back, but not far enough to avoid the brink of elimination
After the first 30 minutes or so, the Blackhawks began to push back, and by doing so gained momentum. However, it was L.A. who scored next, as Drew Doughty’s shot from the point snuck past Crawford for the 4-0 lead. At 14:03, Brandon Saad flipped a backhander past Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, putting the Hawks on the board. Midway through the third, Bryan Bickell scored after a furious battle around the net (including a fantastic block of a Jonathan Toews tap-in attempt by Doughty), cutting the lead to 4-2.
However, that’s as close as Chicago would get. Tanner Pearson’s empty-netter with just over a minute left completed the scoring. In the end, Los Angeles prevailed 5-2, placing Chicago squarely on the brink of elimination after six straight series wins going back to last year’s Cup run. Los Angeles, by contrast, is on the verge of their second Stanley Cup finals appearance in the last three years.
Post game comments“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. “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.”
Hawks captain Jonathan Toews was reflective following the loss. “Here we are,” he 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.”
Game five is slated for Wednesday night at the United Center. As Yogi Berra once said, it ain’t over until it’s over. That said, the Hawks are on the brink of seeing the fat lady start to warm up her pipes.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.