Kings' Epic Comeback Makes Western Conference Final a Brand New Series

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Kings' Epic Comeback Makes Western Conference Final a Brand New Series
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Through 38 minutes of Game 2, the Chicago Blackhawks looked like they were in total control of their third-round series against the Los Angeles Kings.

Up 2-0 on home ice after having Game 1, the Blackhawks’ speed and quick passing were picking apart the Los Angeles defense. A few minutes earlier, Kings coach Darryl Sutter had highlighted the way his team was getting beat by Chicago’s transition game as a problem to NBCSN's Brian Engblom:

"From the blue line to the top of the circles on [zone] entry," he explained when asked what Los Angeles needed to improve. "Because their defense is turning pucks back up too quick."

Of course, as NHL.com’s Corey Masisak noted, we’ve seen this before from L.A.:

The comeback started just before the end of the second period, as Justin Williams (now united full-time with Mike Richards and Dwight King) forced a puck past Corey Crawford from close to the net. The third period opened with a pair of Chicago penalties, and the Kings’ power play capitalized twice.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

With three goals in less than six minutes, it might reasonably have been assumed that the Kings—a famously unimpressive scoring team—were done. Not so. Instead, Tyler Toffoli scored on the weirdest play this postseason and Jeff Carter completed his hat trick (including an empty-netter) for a 6-2 Kings victory.

Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville seemed stunned by his team’s performance after the loss:

There are many ramifications to this win. The most important one for both teams is that this series is now a best-of-five with the Kings possessing home-ice advantage. Chicago’s 6-0 record at home (now 6-1) in these playoffs was always something of a mirage, but home ice does convey significant advantages, particularly in terms of allowing the coach of the home team to exercise control over line matchups (as the road coach must send out his players first for faceoffs).

Another interesting result is the demonstration that Chicago’s penalty kill is not the great strength it has appeared to be to date in the postseason. Relatedly, it also helped to deflate the growing notion of Corey Crawford’s impregnability.

Entering Game 2, the Blackhawks had gone 44-of-48 on the penalty kill, good for an NHL-leading 91.7 percent success rate, despite the fact they were allowing shots at almost an identical rate as they did in the regular season, during which the team was tied for 19th in the league with an 81.4 percent kill rate.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Crawford has been the difference, as he went from a regular-season regulation save percentage of .864 on the penalty kill up to .939 in the postseason. (We’re considering regulation numbers only here because the NHL categorizes overtime performance separately.) A .939 save percentage on the penalty kill is a ridiculously good performance which no goalie can sustain in the long term, and so Crawford and the Hawks were due for a fall.

It finally came when the Kings scored twice on six shots over four power plays. Projecting forward, it is reasonable to believe that both Crawford and the Chicago penalty kill will perform more in line with their established level of ability than with the abnormal success rate they posted through two rounds.

It is important, though, not to get too caught up in Los Angeles’ fantastic performance over the last 20-odd minutes of this game. The Kings are capable of offensive outbursts, but over 82 games this season they showed that they aren’t an offensive powerhouse—and changes like the addition of Marian Gaborik aren’t enough to totally alter that.   

Right now, the prevailing winds are blowing directly in favor of the Kings, but it wasn’t all that long ago that Chicago looked to be set for a commanding series lead. As with any series between two exceptional teams, there are plenty of twists yet to come.

 

Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report; follow him on Twitter for more of his work.

Statistics courtesy of ExtraSkater.com and NHL.com.

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