Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports
Three down, one to go. But it’s not that simple and it won’t be that easy. The LA Kings are in for a battle against the Chicago Blackhawks, who will look to stay alive in the series on Wednesday night.
For the first time since 2012, the Hawks are on the brink of elimination as the Kings have taken a commanding 3-1 series lead. However, as Kings’ coach Darryl Sutter cautions, “You don’t get nothin’ for three.” While the Kings do have a perfect 4-0 record when leading a series 3-1 (a record set in 2012), they know it won’t be easy. You don’t just knock off the defending Champs without a lot of effort (and perhaps a pinch of luck). After being faced with the possibility of an early summer six times already, this will arguably be LA’s hardest task yet.
Following the Game 3 loss, Blackhawks Coach Quenneville decided to make some line changes in Game 4 to try and counter LA’s red hot second line. He started Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on a line together and for the most part, it worked. While Kane didn’t pick up any points, his line gave LA fits, particularly in the third period. More on that later.
The Hawks had a lot of jump right out the gate and spent the majority of the first few minutes in the offensive zone, though they weren’t able to generate much out of said zone time. Just as the Kings had started to generate some offensive zone time of their own, they took a couple of undisciplined penalties. First Anze Kopitar took a hooking penalty and about five seconds after the team finished killing that penalty, Dustin Brown got called for high sticking Duncan Keith. However, 40 seconds into the second power play, Jake Muzzin hit Marian Hossa who was in front of the crease and Hossa got called for goaltender interference.
Ten seconds into their first power play, the Kings scored. Muzzin had what felt like an eternity to line up his shot and he picked the corner over Corey Crawford‘s left shoulder. Toews had an opportunity to clear the zone while the teams were still at 4v4 but was unable to. Muzzin did a really good job of pressuring Toews and taking the puck away.
But the Kings weren’t done there. A few minutes later, with some aggressive play in the neutral zone, Marian Gaborik got the puck deep into Chicago’s zone. Kopitar stripped Keith in the corner and fed Gaborik who tipped it five-hole.
With five minutes remaining, Patrick Sharp took a roughing penalty and the Kings made him pay. Pretty passing opened up a few seams and Brown was able to put the puck into the open net after a deft tip pass from Justin Williams and Muzzin.
The Kings went into the first intermission up 3-0.
Both teams traded penalties and goals. Neither team was able to capitalize with the man advantage. Shortly after the Kings killed off a bench minor for too many men, Drew Doughty scored with a deft little wrist shot that deflected, knuckled and beat Crawford over the glove.
A minute later, Brandon Saad finally broke through for the Blackhawks with a beautiful backhander that he roofed over Jonathan Quick‘s shoulder. He had ample time and space to pick his shot and he nailed it.
Chicago proceeded to hem LA inside their own zone for much of the remainder of the period but were unable to convert on anything.
The first nine minutes were pretty even for both teams. But then Chicago’s top line was rewarded with a goal for some hard work down low. During a scrum midway through the period, Doughty robbed Toews on the goal line but the puck eventually worked its way over to Bryan Bickell who chipped it over Quick’s left shoulder.
Crawford was pulled for the extra attacker with three minutes left, however the Hawks were not able to close the gap. It took two minutes and four tries before Tanner Pearson finally got the empty net goal.
Final score: 5-2 LA.
The Kings played a good game against a good team. One thing to note, though, is how their team wide shooting percentage has risen to ridiculous levels from a near league-low 6% to an absurd 11.3% (over a relatively small sample size) in the postseason. To put that into perspective, NHL team average is around 8% at 5v5.
The Kings’ special teams have really taken over the series with the Blackhawks. Their power play is scoring at a 40% clip. During the regular season, teams with the best power plays had a success rate around 18%. Their penalty kill units, since ceding goals in the first two games, have really shut down the opposition and made it difficult to generate any momentum. As a team, they’re doing an excellent job of getting into lanes, blocking shots and lifting sticks. And when there is a breakdown, Jonathan Quick has been there to bail them out.
All in all, the Kings are getting rather lucky with their goal scoring right now. They’re also getting a lot of depth scoring throughout the lineup, particularly from defensemen Jake Muzzin and Drew Doughty. Will it regress? Eventually, yes, but when, I’m not sure.
Their goaltending has been very good and aside from one or two miscues, Quick has been doing his part to keep his team in the game. At the other end of the spectrum, there was nothing Corey Crawford could do on Monday night. The Kings have done great work of tipping/deflecting shots and providing multilayer screens. It’s incredibly difficult for a goaltender to do his job when he can’t even see the puck.
The defending champs will not be easily denied a victory in this series. The Kings cannot count on their good fortune with special teams to hold up. While they excelled through 40 minutes on Monday, they will need to make sure their 5v5 play is very good. I fully expect Chicago to come out hard and make life very difficult for LA.
Next game: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 8pm ET/5pm PT. If necessary, Game 6 will be on Friday, May 30th.