(Photo: Mark Welsh/DailyHerald.com)
Much like a baseball fan doesn’t utter word of a pitcher’s hitless game, I made no mention of the Blackhawks’ home ice winning streak. Jinx fail-safes be damned, all good things must come to an end.
The Los Angeles Kings Wednesday struck down Chicago’s United Center win streak, where they’ve taken the last seven home playoff games. In fact, their home-ice win streak went back 11 games, into their regular season March 25 against the Dallas Stars.
Speaking of streaks, until Wednesday, the Hawks beat the Kings in all of their 2013-14 meetings and the past three home playoff games.
“Yeah, I mean, you always want to win on home ice, Blackhawks winger Ben Smith said Thursday. “We’ve had some success on home ice before yesterday. What can you do?
“We have to go out there and win a game in L.A. for sure. It’s something that we’ve done before. Being able to draw from that experience is nice. You know, it’s one of those things where you have to move on, as I said before, try and win Game 3.”
It wasn’t just the loss on home ice. It was a 6-2 flogging, with all of the Kings’ goals coming from the end of the second period on without an answer from the boys in red. This followed a 3-1 Blackhawks win in Game 1 and Chicago victories against Los Angeles for all of the regular season meetings.
Coach Joel Quenneville was pleased with the first 38 minutes of the game, before the meltdown began.
Nick Leddy scored a breakaway goal with a backhand shot with 5:44 left in the first during a Power Play, when Willie Mitchell was called for holding against Patrick Kane. It was Leddy’s first goal of the playoffs. Duncan Keith was credited with the assist–he’s had seven in the postseason.
“It was a huge goal for us. To be honest with you, I thought we were a little flat heading up to that goal,” Carter said. “We got a bounce. The guys worked hard to get to the net. It gave us a little bit of life. Gave us a little bit of extra energy going into the third.”
That’s an understatement.
For the Blackhawks, it all went downhill from there.
“They got a little momentum at the end of the period scoring a big goal for them on an innocent play, gave them some life,” Quenneville said. “Took a couple funny penalties, they were both in our net, that was it.”
Bollig took a misguided interference penalty against Tyler Toffoli at just 1:14 into the third and despite the Hawks’ status as Penalty Kill leaders (topping the league by 7.5% above the next-highest team until Wednesday’s game), the Kings tied the game on their Power Play.
Jeff Carter scored with a deflection past Crawford just 23 seconds into the Power Play. Carter, who had four goals up until then in the playoffs, was assisted by Drew Doughty (9) and Slava Voynov (4).
A flurry of Kings goals followed, netting Carter a hat trick.
On yet another controversial call, a “too many men on the ice” penalty sent Brandon Saad to the box and another puck into the net.
Less than five minutes later, Toffoli scored his fifth playoff goal with a point-blank wrister on Crawford’s glove side– assisting, Tanner Pearson (6) and Carter (9). The Blackhawks made an embarrassing mistake here, stopping play when they believed the puck went off the net.
Pro tip Blackhawks: play until you hear the whistle. The Kings did, and they score.
— James Neveau (@JamesNeveau) May 22, 2014
Carter tallied again 14:44 into the third, with a wristshot assisted by Pearson (7) and Matt Greene (1).
The Blackhawks were unable to do anything with an extra attacker on the ice, and Carter scored an empty netter, giving him a hat trick and his seventh playoff goal with 3:31 left in the game.
The Kings’ Jonathan Quick made 23 of 25 saves. Crawford made 25 of 30. Shots were 31-25 Kings, faceoff wins also favored Los Angeles 43-27.
This led to the final score of 6-2, and that didn’t sit well with Chicago.
“Well, the sun rose this morning,” Smith said Thursday. “Obviously we’re not happy with what happened in the last 22 minutes or so…
“We want to let the pain we felt sink in. Having said that, we want to move forward and know that, for a good portion of that game, we were in control and playing well. If we focus on that, try to bring that for 60 minutes, it puts us in a good spot to win games. We’ll learn from it, for sure, and try to move forward.”
Both the Blackhawks and Kings are battlers; and both teams plan to start fresh at the Staples Center, although for different reasons. The Blackhawks have to shake their Game 2 loss, and the Kings have to fight a team that will be trying to redeem itself.
“It doesn’t matter what happened last series. It’s completely new. On Saturday it won’t matter what happened in Game 2. You got to start fresh every night,” Greene said.
“You got to be ready for that new battle every night because you know they’re going to do the same thing. They don’t care what happened in Game 2 either. They’re going to come out and play hard.”
The Blackhawks do have one advantage–the return of Andrew Shaw.
Shaw, who has been out of the lineup since Game 1 of Round 2 against the Minnesota Wild is expected to return for Game 3 Saturday.
— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) May 20, 2014
“It will be huge. He’s a guy that brings a lot of energy,” Smith said. “His presence in the room, his presence on the ice, his physicality. His energy mostly is the biggest thing. Having him back would be nice.”
Shaw had two goals and two assists in seven playoff games this season.
“He’s got an element that you appreciate, his competitiveness,” Quenneville said. “He’s got some skills. He’s got some abrasiveness. He’s got the right attitude to find a way to get the job done.”
Putting him on the ice will mean taking away another player, likely Bollig, Kris Versteeg, or Peter Regin. Bollig, who has served a suspension, been a healthy scratch, and taken some risky penalties in the playoffs seems a reasonable candidate. He is also, however, the “muscle” on a team that fell behind 35-23 in hits in Game 2 and 34-25 in Game 1. Regin skated in a white sweater during Friday’s afternoon practice, but Quenneville won’t likely show his cards until the last possible moment.
The Blackhawks and Kings face off at 7 p.m. CT Saturday at the Staples Center, airing on NBC.
The Kings are 3-3 on home ice this postseason.
The rest of the Western Conference Final is as scheduled (tentatively) as follows:
Game 4: Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings 8 p.m. CT May 26 NBCSN
Game 5: Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks 7 p.m. CT May 28 NBCSN
Game 6: Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings 8 p.m. CT May 30 NBCSN (if needed)
Game 7: Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks 7 p.m. CT June 1 NBCSN (if needed)
The winner of the best-of-seven series will go in to play the winner of the Eastern Conference Final, either the Montreal Canadiens or New York Rangers.
These players will all put their bodies, blood, sweat, and tears (maybe the tears are more from is hockey fans) on the line these remaining games…Because it’s the Cup.