Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks Game 2: Keys for Each Team
Just like last year, the Los Angeles Kings are in a hole going into Game 2 of their Western Conference Final series on Wednesday.
In 2013, the Kings took an early 1-0 lead in Game 1 before falling 2-1 to a Chicago Blackhawks team that went on to win the series in five games, then win the Stanley Cup.
This season, Los Angeles dropped Game 1 by a score of 3-1. The Kings will be looking to alter the plot, while the 'Hawks will try to draw on their successful past history when the series resumes at the United Center on Wednesday.
Here's a look at the keys to victory for each team in Game 2.
Key for Los Angeles: Quick Must Best Crawford
When the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, goaltender Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the team's most valuable player. That year, he posted a 1.41 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.
A year later, Corey Crawford won the 2013 Stanley Cup with a solid but less spectacular 1.84 goals-against and .932 save percentage. He's in the same ballpark so far this year—1.90 and .933—while Quick is performing well below his Cup-winning pace with a goals-against of 2.75 and a save percentage of .912 through 15 playoff games.
Quick is a more acclaimed keeper than Crawford, but here's the bad news: Quick's lifetime record against Chicago. He's just 6-12-1 in the regular season against the 'Hawks, with a 2.76 goals-against. The numbers get even worse in the playoffs—Quick is 1-5 with a 2.86 goals-against.
Quick wasn't bad in Game 1, but he wasn't good enough to deliver the win. The Kings will need their streaky netminder to get red-hot again if they hope to split the series before heading home to L.A.
Key for Chicago: Play a Full 60 Minutes
Overall, the Chicago Blackhawks were the better team in Game 1 and got the result they were after. But they left the door open for Los Angeles in the second period, allowing an uncharacteristic 17 shots in the frame.
Chicago was airtight defensively in the other two periods, allowing just five shots in the first and four in the third. The 'Hawks also posted 25 blocked shots, but just four of those blocks came in the second period.
The Kings manufactured their only goal of the game during this defensive lapse when Tyler Toffoli scored at 4:35 of the second period. Strong play from Corey Crawford prevented further damage and gave the 'Hawks the chance to rally and win after they had weathered the storm.
We've seen Los Angeles' explosive offense in action against the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks. The Blackhawks can't afford to lapse often if they hope to win this series.
Key for Los Angeles: Bury Big Chances
Two minutes and 24 seconds into the third period of Game 1, with Chicago leading by a single goal, Tyler Toffoli had a spectacular chance to score his second goal of the game. After laying a terrific deke on Corey Crawford, the wide-open net loomed in front of him.
Rather than tying it up, Toffoli clanged the puck off of the post, keeping the score at 2-1. From there, the 'Hawks locked down their defense to preserve a lead that eventually grew to 3-1 after a late insurance marker from Jonathan Toews.
As the Kings learned last year against the 'Hawks, they won't be handed many Grade-A scoring opportunities in this series. If they hope to have a chance, they can't squander these opportunities when they do arise.
Key for Chicago: A Spark from Andrew Shaw
The Chicago lineup could get a boost on Wednesday, as spark plug Andrew Shaw sounds like he's ready to return after missing six games with a lower-body injury.
Shaw practiced with the Blackhawks on Tuesday, and Shawn Roarke of NHL.com reports that while coach Joel Quenneville remains noncommittal, Shaw says he's ready. "I feel like I'm ready to play, but that's not my decision to make," Shaw said. "I'm getting prepared like I'm going to play [Wednesday]."
Coaches are often reluctant to tinker with winning lineups in the playoffs, and the 'Hawks are currently on a three-game winning streak, but Shaw brings a unique combination of grit and skill.
According to Pete Jensen of NHL.com, he's one of just nine NHL players who produced more than 20 goals and more than 160 hits during the regular season. Shaw's in lofty company, alongside David Backes, Milan Lucic, Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer, Alexander Ovechkin, Brayden Schenn, Gabriel Landeskog and Shea Weber.
The Kings play a physical style of hockey. Shaw's edge offers a powerful counterattack.
Key for Los Angeles: Snap the Losing Streak
Each time the Los Angeles Kings have lost a game in these playoffs, the streak has stretched to three losses before the team was able to right the ship.
The Kings have developed an impressive reputation for fighting back from adversity, but they've let themselves slip into dangerous waters twice in this postseason before mounting their comebacks.
In the first round, the Kings were on track to be the first team eliminated from the playoffs when they went down 0-3 to the San Jose Sharks before winning four in a row to steal the series. In the second round, they built a 2-0 lead on the Anaheim Ducks before once again losing three straight, leaving them to win two more elimination games in order to earn the right to advance.
Now that the Kings have dropped Game 1 against Chicago, will the same pattern emerge? It would be a much riskier approach in this round—unlike the Sharks and Ducks, the Blackhawks have shown time and time again that they are able to score big goals when it matters most.
If they hope to win this series, Darryl Sutter and the Kings need to manufacture the cocky urgency they've shown in their elimination games—stat.
Key for Chicago: Keep Kopitar in Check
Anze Kopitar is playing the best hockey of his life this spring. He leads the 2014 playoffs in scoring with 19 points in 15 games and has been held scoreless in just two games so far. He has also been a minus player in just two games through this postseason.
The good news for the Blackhawks is that both of those things happened in Game 1 of this series. Kopitar was held without a shot, his sharpshooter linemate Marian Gaborik was also held off the scoresheet, and Kopitar was on the ice for Jonathan Toews' clinching goal, finishing the day with a minus-one.
Joel Quenneville is matching power against power, putting his own Selke Trophy nominee Toews up against Kopitar. It worked perfectly in Game 1 and will need to keep working if the 'Hawks hope to cruise on to their second straight Stanley Cup Final.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com.
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