Chicago Blackhawks vs. Los Angeles Kings Game 4: Keys for Each Team
For the second consecutive game, the Chicago Blackhawks weren't able to drive a 2-1 lead home to victory against the Los Angeles Kings.
On Saturday, the Kings scored two goals on four shots in the second period to erase that lead, ultimately earning a 4-3 win in Game 3 of the 2014 Western Conference Final. The win gives Los Angeles its first lead in the best-of-seven series, two games to one.
The Kings' resilience in these playoffs is quickly becoming legendary, but Chicago has also had its fair share of bounce-back moments. This series is far from over.
Here's a look at the keys to victory for each team when Game 4 takes place on Monday in Los Angeles.
Key for Chicago: Bounce Back Again
This isn't the first time Chicago has lost two straight games in these playoffs.
In the first round, the Blackhawks fell behind the St. Louis Blues 0-2 before rebounding with four straight wins. Against the Minnesota Wild, the 'Hawks took a 2-0 lead, then the Wild bounced back to tie the series before Chicago put them away in six games.
Do you remember 2013, when the Blackhawks were written off after the Detroit Red Wings pushed them within one game of elimination in the second round? Chicago came back then too—dominating Game 5, then pressing on to win the series—and the Stanley Cup.
Give the Kings credit. They've been the better team through the full 60 minutes of the last two games. But don't expect the Blackhawks to roll over and go quietly. Chicago has a knack for turning yesterday's heartbreaker into tomorrow's game-breaker.
Key for Los Angeles: Keep Exploiting Mismatches
Much of the Kings' success over the last two games has come off the sticks of the newly anointed "That '70s Line" of Jeff Carter between Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson.
In a second-line role, the trio has posted 15 points in three games so far in this series, compared to just a single goal from their Chicago counterparts of Patrick Kane, Michal Handzus and Patrick Sharp.
The Kings' top line has been successfully contained by Jonathan Toews and company so far. By continuing to cede that matchup in Game 3, Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter kept the ice open for Carter's gang. The group that broke open Game 2 worked the same magic on Saturday night.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is likely to make adjustments to try to light a fire under his team in Game 4. With home-ice advantage, Sutter will have the last change once again. He should be able to set up the matchups that are most advantageous for the Kings from a top-to-bottom perspective.
Key for Chicago: Better Special Teams
As Shawn Roarke of NHL.com reports, Chicago's Duncan Keith laid the blame for his team's loss at the foot of too many penalties: "We have to stay out of the box. We've talked about it; they're penalties we can't take. There are some you have to take sometimes, sometimes it's an accident, but they're scoring on the power play."
Chicago's penalty-killing is ranked second in the playoffs, at 87.3 percent, but the Kings have scored three times in nine opportunities in the first three games of the Western Conference Final. That's only a 66.7 percent kill rate for the Blackhawks.
On Saturday, the Kings went 1-of-3 with the man advantage and scored their fourth goal just two seconds after the expiry of Michal Rozsival's third-period high-sticking penalty. L.A. also gave up a short-handed goal to Toews in the first period.
By contrast, the 'Hawks generated almost no pressure in four power-play tries. Los Angeles took the only three penalties of the second period—a period in which they were outshot 10-4 by Chicago—yet it was the Kings who scored both goals.
The Blackhawks did score with the man advantage in each of the first two games of the series. They'll need stronger performances from both halves of the special teams if they hope to draw even again in Game 4.
Key for Los Angeles: Quick Stays Ahead of His Record
Coming into this series, much was made about Jonathan Quick's poor lifetime record against the Chicago Blackhawks: 6-12-1 in the regular season with a 2.76 goals-against and 1-4 in the 2013 playoffs with a 2.80 goals-against.
The Kings are now leading the series, but they're taking a page out of Chicago's book and doing it with scoring: 11 goals in three games so far. Quick has surrendered eight goals to the 'Hawks, pinning his performance for this series at a 2.71 goals-against—only a hair better than his historical numbers.
The Blackhawks were the second-best offensive team in the league during the regular season, scoring an average of 3.18 goals per game. If Quick can keep doing what he's doing and his team keeps giving him solid run support, Los Angeles could finally snap the Blackhawks' longstanding dominance over its team.
Key for Chicago: Build off Last Three Seconds
It's not much, but it's something.
The Blackhawks took inspiration from those last-second comebacks that were so commonplace in Round 1 to see if they could work their own miracle at the end of Game 3.
With three seconds left in the third period, Patrick Sharp pulled the 'Hawks to within a goal. Chicago even managed one more shot off the faceoff that reached Quick just after the final buzzer.
Sharp's goal was just his third of the playoffs and the first point for his line so far in this series. After contributing 11 goals in the Blackhawks' 2010 playoff run and 10 goals in 2013, he's expected to be making more of a contribution.
Just as a lucky goal for Justin Williams near the end of the second period of Game 2 proved to be the spark that fueled the Kings to turn around the series, Sharp's goal could light a fire under him. That, in turn, may help to boost the fortunes of his line and the rest of his team.
Key for Los Angeles: Milk the Moment
The United Center in Chicago is renowned for using its raucous fans and rousing national anthem to intimidate visiting teams. Now, the Los Angeles Kings are using their Hollywood razzle-dazzle to create a dazzling show that suits the team's personality and fires up their own now-passionate fanbase.
The Kings are no longer an afterthought in Southern California. They regularly attract a string of high-profile celebrities, and on Saturday, they countered the powerful "Star-Spangled Banner" rendition by Chicago's Jim Cornelison with a Hendrix-inspired electric-guitar version by legendary rocker Slash.
It made headlines—and added a serious jolt of energy to the proceedings. The Kings may not be an Original Six squad with decades of history to draw from, but since their 2012 Cup win, they've continued to mold themselves into one of the most enviable franchises in the NHL, both on and off the ice.
The Kings need to draw on the power of their home rink once again to keep the momentum as they head into Game 4.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com.
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