The Los Angeles Kings firmly asserted control of the Western Conference Final Saturday night, beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 at the Staples Center to grab a 2-1 series lead.
After losing Game 1 3-1 in Chicago, the Kings have been a completely different team. They hammered the Blackhawks 6-2 in Game 2 and followed that up with a strong performance three days later.
Abbey Mastracco of Fox Sports West wrote about Los Angeles head coach Darryl Sutter's understated approach to motivating his team. Rather than screaming at his players, he opts for a more calm, to-the-point team talk.
"Quite honestly, you hear about all these big speeches that coaches make and all that. You know what, the players are getting the hell beat out of them, they're sweating and bleeding. They don't need, quite honestly, all that," Sutter said. "They don't need some coach coming in there yelling and hollering... If there's something to be said, it's honest, get it out. It's not some great words or some great rallying cry between periods."
If Sutter's was yelling in the locker room Saturday night, then it was at least in celebration.
However, he must have been biting his tongue with the way that his team started the game. Five and a half minutes into the first period, Jonathan Toews put the Blackhawks on the board.
With Chicago shorthanded, Toews stole the puck off Justin Williams and created a breakaway chance for himself. From there, he expertly slotted a shot past Jonathan Quick for a 1-0 lead.
Less than a minute later, though, Los Angeles responded.
Following the old adage, if at first you don't succeed, try again, Slava Voynov scored on his second attempt after his first shot went wide right. Down a man, the Blackhawks couldn't clear the danger, and the Kings worked the puck around until Voynov had another clear shot.
ESPN.com's Scott Burnside applauded Voynov's patience on the goal:
Nice job by Voynov to wait a beat, maybe two, until shooting lane opens and ties it with 24 seconds left on the Kings PP. 1-1.— Scott Burnside (@ESPN_Burnside) May 25, 2014
Toews and Chicago didn't remain silent for very long, with the 26-year-old finding his second goal of the first period to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead at 13:19. Michal Rozsival had his shot blocked by Drew Doughty, but Toews reacted quickly, collecting the puck and slapping it past Quick.
Ray Ratto of CSNBayArea.com thought Toews' presence was so immense on the ice that he had to have been more than one man:
Jonathan Toews is now two different players.— Ray Ratto (@RattoCSN) May 25, 2014
"Toews over to Toews . . . shovels it to Toews . . . back to Toews . . . saucers it to Toews . . . Toews shoots . . . rebound, Toews, Goal!"— Ray Ratto (@RattoCSN) May 25, 2014
Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun used the opportunity to take a dig at Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby:
Jonathan Toews had more goals, 2, in the first period than Sidney Crosby has scored in his past 17 playoff games.— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) May 25, 2014
While Toews and the Blackhawks enjoyed a prolonged period of dominance to start the game, the Kings got the last laugh.
Jeff Carter tied the game at 2-2 8:08 into the second period, and the goal couldn't have been any simpler.
As Tanner Pearson was trying to gather the puck behind the net, Carter posted up right in front of Chicago netminder Corey Crawford. Pearson worked his butt off, eventually earning himself a split-second reprieve long enough to find Carter, and the center fired it home.
Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register thought that Pearon's hard work near the boards set up Carter with what was a gimme goal:
Crawford had a significantly less than zero chance on that one. Pearson did the dirty work to set Carter up.— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) May 25, 2014
A little over six minutes after tying the game, Carter assisted on Tyler Toffoli's go-ahead goal, which put the Kings on top, 3-2. Chicago turned the puck over in the neutral zone, and the Red Sea parted to give Toffoli an open lane to goal. He deftly slipped his shot under the left pad of Crawford.
Carter's assist meant that he had had a hand in seven of Los Angeles' last eight goals.
Doughty doubled the Kings' lead in the third period, making it a 4-2 game. His goal proved important, as Patrick Sharp scored with five seconds left in the game to help the Blackhawks save some face.
Chicago will need a swift response in Game 4, otherwise it risks losing control of the series. The momentum is firmly on Los Angeles' side, and the Kings also have home-ice advantage.
The Blackhawks will first have to neutralize Carter. As Steve Mears of NHL Network pointed out, Carter has 10 points in his last four games:
Another superstar performance from Jeff Carter for the #LAKings. 10 points in the last 4 games and points in 12 of their 17 playoff games.— Steve Mears (@MearsyNHL) May 25, 2014
Carter has stepped his game up in a big way, and if he keeps this pace up, the Kings will be headed to the Stanley Cup Final.