The Los Angeles Kings avoided a 3-0 series deficit in the Western Conference Final, earning the 3-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at Staples Center Tuesday night. But there are still more questions than answers surrounding the defending Stanley Cup champions.
After a disappointing Game 2 loss over the weekend in which star goaltender Jonathan Quick was actually pulled mid-contest, the Kings responded with a gritty performance to get back in the series.
Quick stopped 19 of the 20 shots he faced, including a few world-class saves as Chicago made its late-game push in the third. His game-saving stop on forward Bryan Bickell in the final two minutes of regulation was arguably the best save of the playoffs.
To no one's surprise, Quick gave his team a bounce-back performance in a crucial matchup.
Another positive for Los Angeles was the play of young defenseman Slava Voynov, who assisted on Justin Williams' goal to open the scoring and then scored what would hold up as the game-winner at the 6:37 mark in the second period.
It was the Russian blueliner's fifth goal of the playoffs, which ties him with Boston Bruins veteran Johnny Boychuk for the goal-scoring lead among defensemen in the playoffs. He also leads the postseason with four game-winning goals.
In the absence of veteran center Mike Richards, top prospect Tyler Toffoli has been thrust into a top-six role. And the results have been impressive.
The talented winger tallied a goal and an assist in Game 2 and added another assist Tuesday night. His speed, high hockey IQ and fantastic offensive skill set have all given the Kings some much-needed scoring depth.
But among the positives to come out of their Game 3 victory, the Kings still have plenty of questions that have yet to be answered. Let's look at a few of the most notable ones.
Home Dominance Is Impressive, but Will the Kings Win on the Road?
The Kings improved to 8-0 at Staples Center these playoffs with the win. They don't, however, have home-ice advantage in this series and must win at least once in Chicago to reach their second consecutive Stanley Cup Final.
There aren't any glaring issues and disparities between the road and home, but its special-teams play has been a bit better at Staples Center.
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Quick has also played much better at home. He's given up just nine goals in eight games in L.A. this postseason, compared to 18 goals in eight road games.
Since this team has won just once in eight away games, it goes without saying that it's very important for the Kings to go back to United Center Saturday tied two games apiece.
Chicago has dominated at home with a 7-1 playoff record, including the two victories to start the conference finals, of course. The first team that wins a road game will likely win this series.
How Much Longer Will Dustin Brown and Dustin Penner Struggle to Score?
Captain Dustin Brown and veteran winger Dustin Penner played key roles in the team's Stanley Cup run last season, but both have failed to make a strong impact offensively in the team's title defense.
Through 16 games, they have combined for just eight points (five goals, three assists). Brown has found the back of the net just once in the last eight games, while Penner has one goal in his last 12.
Brown was a point-per-game player in the 2012 playoffs (20 points in 20 games), but he's tallied just 0.25 points per game this year with three goals and one assist. Penner, meanwhile, was at 0.55 PPG last season (11 points in 20 games), but he has just four points in 16 games (0.25 per game) in 2013.
With Richards out of the lineup and No. 1 center Anze Kopitar also struggling with just two goals himself, the Kings need more consistent offensive production from Brown and Penner to keep up with a Blackhawks team that has both great goaltending and special-teams play.
Will the Kings Power Play Improve?
Los Angeles' power play was awful in its championship run last year, and it has been equally ineffective this year. Through 16 games, the power play has scored on just eight of its 46 opportunities (17 percent), which ranks third among the four remaining finalists.
The Kings were able to win Game 3 despite its 0-of-5 mark on the man advantage, but sooner or later these struggles will cost them. The Blackhawks offense rarely fails to score fewer than two goals (11 games of two-plus goals these playoffs), while the squad also leads with a 96.2 percent success rate on the penalty kill (24-of-25).
The Kings need to be more aggressive with their shots and puck movement to open the shooting lanes, while getting more bodies in front of net against Corey Crawford on the other side of the ice.
Los Angeles proved it could win without a good PP last year, but the offense is averaging only 2.00 goals per game (more than 0.5 goals/game lower than the other conference finalists), and will most certainly not be able to advance and get away with the same this year.
How Long Will Mike Richards Need to Return to the Lineup?
One of the best two-way forwards in the NHL, Richards makes a huge impact in almost every facet of the game.
The veteran forward was held out of the Game 3 lineup due to apparent concussion issues, missing his second consecutive game after getting hurt in the series opener on a Dave Bolland hit. The team has not given a timetable for his return.
As a veteran with 75 points in 95 career playoff games, the absence of Richards' experience and scoring is a huge loss for the Kings.
In addition to the scoring he provides (10 points in 14 games), Richards is also capable of playing shutdown defense against the opposing team's most talented forwards. Despite the two missed games, he ranks second among Kings forwards in blocked shots (13), fifth on the team in takeaways (eight), and has accumulated 27 hits.
Recovery from head injury is not a quick process, and though there is no questioning Mike Richards' value to the squad, there is no need to rush him back until he is once again fully ready for the rigors of playoff hockey. Anything else would be a mistake by both Richards and the team.
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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