Chicago Blackhawks vs. Los Angeles Kings Game 3: Keys for Each Team
At the movies, a successful sequel is expected to build off the best elements of a beloved original feature, then introduce enough unexpected twists and turns to keep the story fresh.
The Los Angeles Kings dished out a major plot twist in the Western Conference Final on Wednesday, exploding for six unanswered goals late in the game to hand the Chicago Blackhawks their first home loss of the 2014 playoffs and even the series at one game apiece.
As the scene shifts to Staples Center in Los Angeles for Game 3 on Saturday, here's a look at the biggest keys to victory for each team. Here's what it will take for the Kings to keep riding their positive momentum or the 'Hawks to snatch back the edge.
Key for Chicago: Ride Shaw's Return
Before Game 2, I talked about the lift that a healthy Andrew Shaw would give the Blackhawks when he returns to the lineup from his lower-body injury.
Joel Quenneville elected to keep Shaw out of Game 2, but after Chicago's big collapse on Wednesday, he'll be welcomed back with open arms on Saturday.
In addition to providing a presence that should help boost a struggling third line, Shaw's high-energy style should give Chicago an emotional lift, both on and off the ice. The 'Hawks can use that—to a man, they looked shell-shocked as the Kings came at them in waves during the third period of Game 2.
Key for Los Angeles: Build on Game 2 Momentum
The Kings haven't lacked for confidence when they've been in tough situations earlier in these playoffs. They won all six of the elimination games they faced to earn themselves a ticket to Round 3.
Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown admits that last year's loss to the 'Hawks and the Kings' woeful record at the United Center had weighed on his group. "We've been dominated by this team over the last couple of years, said Brown after the Game 2 win. "To come in here and get a win in their building with the type of home record they have, I think gives us a boost in confidence."
Now that the Kings have "slayed the mythical dragon," as Brown put it, they need to do what they did in their first two series—string together a series of wins that should crush the swagger of the defending Stanley Cup champions. That process starts Saturday with Game 3.
Key for Chicago: Top Forwards Must Contribute
- Marian Hossa 0-0-0, minus-two, two shots on goal
- Jonathan Toews, 0-0-0, minus-two, no shots on goal, 44 percent success rate on faceoffs
- Patrick Kane, 0-0-0, minus-two, two shots on goal
- Bryan Bickell, 0-0-0, minus-two, two shots on goal
- Brandon Saad, 0-0-0, even, one shot on goal
- Patrick Sharp, 0-0-0, minus-two, three shots on goal
Chicago earns respect for its offensive depth and secondary scorers, but the 'Hawks top stars were downright brutal in Game 2.
Stats never tell the whole story but check out these lines from Chicago's six top-scoring forwards so far in these playoffs:
The Blackhawks' offensive stars are proven playoff performers in clutch situations. This group will need to contribute on Saturday if Chicago hopes to bounce back and claim Game 3.
Key for Los Angeles: Defense Must Stay out of the Penalty Box
The Kings dug themselves an early hole in Game 2 when their defensemen took four minor penalties in the opening frame. Los Angeles successfully killed off the minors to Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene and Drew Doughty, but the Blackhawks got on the board at 14:16 of the first, while Mitchell was serving his second penalty of the period.
All that penalty killing made it hard for the Kings to generate any kind of attack. It also wreaked havoc with the team's traditional pairings—Slava Voynov led all skaters with 10:07 of ice time in the first period alone.
Once the Kings' discipline started to improve, so did their fortunes. The second period was penalty-free, and it was Los Angeles that was able to capitalize in the third. Chicago took two early penalties, and Los Angeles scored on both opportunities, taking the lead and ultimately tying the series.
It's tough for a coach to manage his defense with rotating blueliners in the box. Robyn Regehr looks to be sidelined for awhile with his knee injury, according to Curtis Zupke of NHL.com. Darryl Sutter will need to continue to carefully deploy the six bodies he has if he hopes to contain Chicago's explosive offense.
Key for Chicago: Build Confidence from the Net out
After allowing just one goal in each of his three previous games—all wins—Corey Crawford had his worst game of the playoffs on Wednesday, getting lit up five times in just 16:30 of playing time.
Goaltending wasn't the main reason for Chicago's Game 2 loss—the whole team was responsible for the breakdown. But if Crawford can open Game 3 with one or two spectacular stops, that could help provide the momentum the Blackhawks need to start rebuilding their confidence and working their way back into this series.
Key for Los Angeles: Preserve Home Ice Advantage
The Kings did what was necessary during the first two games in Chicago—break that perfect home-ice record and grab a split that flips the script back in their favor.
To take advantage, they'll need to be just as tough in their home barn as the 'Hawks have been in theirs.
For all their success so far in these playoffs, Los Angeles is just 3-3 this year at Staples Center. It won Games 4 and 6 against the San Jose Sharks and Game 6 against the Anaheim Ducks, while dropping Game 3 to San Jose, then Games 3 and 4 to Anaheim.
So—Game 3 has been a problem so far.
In their earlier series, they were down 0-2 to San Jose when they returned home, then up 2-0 over Anaheim. Perhaps the even split will better enable Los Angeles to focus on the task at hand and give their home crowd something to cheer about.
All statistics courtesy of NHL.com.