The Chicago Blackhawks had an absolute meltdown in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final.
There are different ways to frame the 6-2 score that gave the Los Angeles Kings a tied series as the setting shifts to California for Games 3 and 4, but one thing is certain: There's plenty of blame to go around Chicago's locker room over the next two days.
It was a historic loss for the defending Stanley Cup champions. After going 7-0 at home through the 2013-14 postseason, the 'Hawks buckled in a way that hasn't been seen in the Windy City since Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen ruled the world.
Now the Blackhawks are left to wonder how they allowed a two-goal lead to evaporate in the third period of a monster Game 2. As they roll back the painful footage of the third period, they'll see a handful of things that led to a tied Western Conference Final.
Kings Shooters Adjust to Chicago's Shot Blocking
You don't often hear the Blackhawks heralded for their collective shot blocking ability. That comes with the territory when your team can be given credit for everything from outstanding drafting to icing some of the most clutch players in the NHL.
According to SportingCharts.com, the player that blocked the most rubber for Chicago during the regular season was Niklas Hjalmarsson. He finished 19th in the league, averaging 5.47 blocks per game. Not too shabby, but nothing crazy either. ESPN has him ranked second in the postseason though, behind only shot-block machine Dan Girardi.
The rest of the Blackhawks roster seems to have taken notice of Hjalmarsson's pain-for-gain approach, as they've been laying down in front of anything and everything against L.A. They amassed 25 shot-blocks in Game 1, and it took the Kings until the third period of Game 2 to make the necessary adjustment: Shoot quickly and don't allow the defense to get set up.
The fresh mentality allowed Los Angeles to get back into the contest when it seemed all but lost. Jeff Carter deflected a smart and hasty shot from Drew Doughty to tie things up early in the final frame.
Then L.A. managed to take the 3-2 lead just a few moments later on a similar play. A quick shot from defenseman Jake Muzzin beat Corey Crawford this time. The difference between the third period of Game 2 and the first five periods of the series? The Kings managed to get shots through to the net.
Muzzin's timely goal broke the Blackhawks out of their comfortable defensive shell and forced them to chase the game as the minutes ticked off the clock. This played right into the Kings' hands as they were able to counterpunch with speed through the neutral zone for the first time in the series.
Blackhawks Press, Giving Up Too Many Odd-Man Rushes in the Process
A 3-2 hockey game is hardly out of hand an unwinnable one. With snipers like Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews on the roster, coming up with one tally in the final 16 minutes of a playoff game isn't out of the question for Chicago.
While the 'Hawks clutch players have come up big throughout the postseason, they came up short in Game 2 as they gave the Kings odd-man breakout after breakout.
Up until the final frame of the contest, Chicago had been outstanding in the neutral zone. Kings players that depend on their speed to create offense—namely Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik—appeared flustered as the second period came to a close.
Something must have clicked in the locker room during the second intermission, because L.A. came out flying like a four-year-old that was left alone with a pile of Halloween candy.
While the speedy and talented Kings forwards struggled to punch through with the Blackhawks in turtle mode, when the game opened up, they erupted. Carter finished with a hat trick and the Kings had a number of players finish with at least one point.
Oddly enough—as Mike Halford of ProHockeyTalk.com points out—Anze Kopitar wasn't among the 12 players to post at least an assist in Game 2.
Corey Crawford Lays an Egg
Whenever a team allows five goals in the third period of a game they once led, the goalie is going to come under fire. Crawford has been spectacular throughout the postseason and entered the game with a save percentage that was one point off of Henrik Lundqvist's league leading .934.
After Game 2, Crawford's save percentage had dipped down to .926. That's a rough outing and doesn't sync up with how well he usually performs at the United Center.
Los Angeles' outburst against Crawford wasn't just strange because he was at home either. Game 2 is the worst outing Crawford has had against the Kings since the beginning of 2013.
On March 26 of last year he carried a .861 save percentage against L.A., losing the contest via a 5-4 final. Until Game 2, Crawford hadn't allowed his save percentage to dip below .900 against the Kings in more than a year, and it seems like the players in Los Angeles' locker room were at least somewhat aware of how outstanding he typically is against them.
Now the Kings have confidence heading into Game 3. They did what they needed to do by securing a split on the road in Chicago, and the Staples Center is going to be rocking on Saturday night as the Western Conference Final lands in a prime-time slot on NBC.
All statistics appear courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.
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