Quick, name the Los Angeles Kings front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
It’s an important exercise for a couple of reasons:
One, it looks like the Kings will be making a trip to the Stanley Cup final after putting a 3-1 stranglehold on the Blackhawks in the Western Conference final with a 5-2 victory in Los Angeles on Monday night.
Two, it might take you the rest of the playoffs to figure out which member of the Kings most deserves the title of postseason MVP.
In Hollywood, there’s no shortage of superstars playing like superstars.
The Kings’ studs dominated the Blackhawks’ marquee men again to move to within one win of closing out the series. All the Kings’ Men got in on the action. Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik, Tanner Pearson and Jake Muzzin scored the goals, and Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli each had at least an assist.
At the other end, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane got cursory assists on Bryan Bickell’s goal on a frantic scramble in front of the net, but otherwise had few legitimate scoring opportunities on Jonathan Quick.
Duncan Keith isn’t producing offensively and he and partner Brent Seabrook have no answer for the speed of the Carter-Pearson-Toffoli combination or the determination and talent of the top line. The Blackhawks’ top guns up front haven’t been able to get the best of the Kopitar, Brown and Gaborik trio since that first game of the series with the tired Kings coming off their second Game 7 of the playoffs.
Secondary stars like Williams have outplayed the likes of Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa by a country mile.
With a maximum of three games remaining, the chances of the Blackhawks suddenly turning things around to push it to a pivotal Game 7 are slim to none. As good as the Hawks are as a team, and despite the fact the series shifts to Chicago for the next one, the Kings seem to be getting better.
The scary thing is the Kings collectively talked about improving going forward after arguably their best outing of the series.
“We’ll have to play a hell of a lot better than we were tonight,” head coach Darryl Sutter said at the podium, via the NHL Network, when asked how to close out the Hawks.
“The fourth (win) is the toughest one,” Kopitar said postgame on the NHL Network. “We’re going into a loud, energetic building where we’re going to have to bring our best. Tonight was a step in the right direction, but there’s still room for improvement. We’re going to have to be better.”
Sorry, did you really say there’s room for improvement? The coach must have brainwashed you.
The Kings have even taken the lustre off Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford’s star after he looked like a world-beater during most of the previous two rounds.
They’re dominating in the faceoff circle, their power play is clicking at 41 percent, and only Toews has been able to make any sort of mark on the Kings in the past three games.
While the Hawks captain has three goals and four points in the series, Kane and Sharp have managed just an assist and a goal combined in the four games. That’s paired with identical minus-three ratings. Hossa—one assist in the past three games following a two-assist effort in the opener—has also disappeared.
Talk all you want about the fact the Blackhawks were behind, 3-1, in the series against the Detroit Red Wings a year ago only to come back, win the series and then win the Stanley Cup; it’s not going to happen this year.
I’ll take bets on the side here. The Kings won’t be denied. There are no cracks in the armour. Kevin Weekes said it well on the NHL Network looking ahead to Wednesday’s elimination game:
“Going back to Chicago in Game 5, if these guys aren’t ready to go and they can’t get production from some of those world-class players, it could be curtains.”
The Blackhawks were reportedly calm in the dressing room, drawing on their past experience playing from behind in a series. But Toews admitted to the frustration of being shut down by Quick and Co., and seeing the Kings put up the kinds of offensive numbers the Blackhawks were posting during the regular season.
“It wasn’t for a lack of trying or a lack of effort. The guys played really well at times. We had them in their zone,” Toews told the NHL Network. “We’re not going to stop working. We’re not going to stop trying. We’ve got to give it everything and nothing less. We know we’ve got more. We know there’s something else we can bring to the table.”
He said the Hawks are looking for their “swagger.”
They better hurry, because the Kings have certainly found theirs.
All stats via NHL.com
Steve Macfarlane has been covering the NHL for more than a decade, including seven seasons for the Calgary Sun. You can follow him on Twitter @MacfarlaneHKY.