In their impressive 4-2 victory in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, the Chicago Blackhawks did something that no team had accomplished against the Los Angeles Kings in 34 consecutive playoff games: score more than three goals against elite goaltender Jonathan Quick.
Chicago has done a masterful job finding ways to beat Quick in the first two games of this series, which has resulted in the Blackhawks needing to win just two more times to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Quick came into the series as the playoff leader in GAA and save percentage, but he has now allowed six goals in the last four periods for the first time in this year's playoffs.
After Blackhawks center Michal Handzus gave his team a 4-0 lead in the second period of Sunday's Game 2, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter decided to pull Quick from the game. Sutter talked about the move in his postgame press conference, per Adam Hoge of CBS Chicago:
The 27-year-old netminder had not been replaced in a playoff game since the Kings were eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the first round two years ago.
How are the Blackhawks scoring goals on Quick consistently? Let's take a look at a breakdown.
Traffic in Front of the Net
Getting bodies in front of the net and setting screens so the opposing goaltender cannot see the puck is one of the most common and effective strategies to score on a goaltender of Quick's caliber.
He doesn't give up many rebounds when he has a clean look at the puck, so one of the only ways to create second and third scoring opportunities is to make it difficult for the Kings goalie to see the puck and cover it for a faceoff.
Chicago has implemented this game plan over the first two games, and the results have been incredibly positive.
In Game 1, Marian Hossa scored the winning goal in the third period by deflecting a Duncan Keith blast from the point.
As a strong player with impressive size (6'1", 210 pounds), Hossa's presence in front of the net made it difficult for Quick to see and stop the puck from hitting the back of his net. He also did a great job of using his strength to prevent Kings forward Mike Richards from moving him out of Quick's space.
The best example of the Blackhawks beating Quick with traffic at the top of the crease was Bryan Bickell's goal on Sunday to widen his team's lead to 3-0 in the second period (it also ended up being the game-winning goal).
Bickell was credited with his sixth goal of the postseason (tied with Hossa for second most on the team) despite the fact that Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr may have gotten the final touch on the puck before it went into his team's net. But the Blackhawks would not have beaten Quick on this play without the veteran winger's presence in front of Quick.
The replay shows that while Bickell was battling multiple Kings players for the puck at the top of the crease, Quick had no idea where it was because of the Blackhawks forward's size (6'4", 233 pounds).
Bickell has emerged as one of Chicago's top performers in the postseason with his ability to play a physical game and win 50-50 battles for pucks in the dirty areas. His go-ahead goal in Game 6 of the Blackhawks' second-round series against the Detroit Red Wings was also a result of him battling for a loose puck in front of the opposing goalie.
He has been so successful in this role that head coach Joel Quenneville has rewarded him with substantial ice time on the team's top line alongside Hossa and captain Jonathan Toews.
As the series shifts to Staples Center, where Los Angeles is 7-0 in the playoffs, forcing Quick to search for the puck around a multitude of bodies in front of the net must remain in the Blackhawks' game plan.
Blackhawks are Taking Advantage of Quick's Stick-Side Weakness
Quick's great athletic ability and strong reaction time enable him to stop most of the shots that go to his glove side. His glove positioning is fantastic, even when he slides laterally from post to post to make highlight-reel saves.
The Blackhawks made an effort to shoot stick-side in Game 2, evident by the fact that three of their four goals on Sunday were scored in this area. Brent Seabrook, Andrew Shaw and Handzus all scored stick-side on Sunday, so expect Chicago to take advantage of this area for the remainder of the series.
Giving up goals stick-side is not an unfamiliar situation for Quick, who had trouble stopping these types of shots in last year's playoffs when he led the Kings to their first-ever Stanley Cup championship as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
Per ESPN Stats & Info (June 2, 2012):
The Blackhawks have several forwards with accurate wrist shots and the accuracy needed to score goals stick-side, including Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Handzus and Hossa.
If Quick's struggles on his stick side continue, this will be a short series because Los Angeles' offense doesn't have the scoring depth or elite high-end skill to overcome poor performances from its goaltender.
Shoot Early and Often, Make Quick Work Hard for 60 Minutes
Chicago ranks second among the four conference finalists in shots attempted per game (33.5), and it has made a strong effort to fire as many pucks on Quick as possible.
The Blackhawks have outshot the Kings 62-53 over the first two games. Chicago has won seven of its nine games in this year's playoffs when it outshoots the opponent.
With that said, shot totals can sometimes be a deceiving stat because it doesn't matter how many shots a team takes if the goaltender can see them and doesn't have to work hard to make saves. But Chicago has done a great job of using its playmaking skill and speed up and down the roster to generate high-quality scoring chances in the slot and in transition.
In the second period of Game 2, the Blackhawks outshot the Kings 11-5 and scored two goals to take a 4-1 lead into the final 20 minutes of regulation. It was a dominant 20 minutes of hockey highlighted by the Blackhawks' aggressive play in the attacking zone.
If the Blackhawks continue to outshoot and outchance the Kings in this series, it's going be very tough for Los Angeles to win four of the next five matchups against a Chicago team that rarely loses back-to-back games.
Quick was not at his best on Sunday—that was obvious throughout the game. He's been the most consistent playoff performer in the NHL over the last two seasons, but playing a talented and deep Blackhawks team on back-to-back days at this stage of the year was a difficult challenge for him.
A bounce-back performance from Quick should be expected in Game 3 when the Kings return to home ice, where their goalie has given up just eight goals in seven games this postseason.
However, if the Blackhawks maintain their aggressive play in the attacking zone by taking a lot of shots, creating traffic in front of the net and shooting stick-side on Quick, they will generate enough scoring chances to sweep the series or bring a 3-1 advantage back to the United Center for Game 5.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston.
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