Chicago Blackhawks vs. Los Angeles Kings Game 6: Keys for Each Team
The Stanley Cup champions will not go quietly.
Michal Handzus was the double-overtime hero as the Chicago Blackhawks came back to defeat the Los Angeles Kings by a score of 5-4 on Wednesday night at United Center.
The Kings now lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 as the the scene shifts back to Staples Center for Game 6 on Friday, with both teams facing plenty of pressure.
The Blackhawks will be facing elimination for the second straight game as they try to bounce back from a 3-1 series deficit. The Kings will take to the ice knowing that they failed to finish the job when they had the chance on Wednesday—giving up a third-period lead for the first time in the entire playoffs.
One thing's for sure: After the wildly entertaining finish to Game 5, hockey fans will be in for a treat on Friday night.
Here's a look at the keys to victory for each team.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com.
Key for Chicago: Second Line Stays Strong
Joel Quenneville's latest round of adjustments to his forward lines paid huge dividends for the second line in Game 5.
Coach Q moved Marian Hossa back to the top unit with Jonathan Toews, then replaced Michal Handzus with Andrew Shaw between Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, with inspired results.
Kane had four assists, while Saad notched a goal and two assists. It was a timely breakout for Kane in particular, who'd posted just one assist in the first four games of the series.
Shaw had two assists, was a plus-three and won nearly 55 percent of his faceoffs—an area where the Kings have dominated throughout the series.
As well as they played offensively, the new second-line combination also provided tougher opposition for the Kings' "That '70s Line." After dominating in Games 3 and 4, Tanner Pearson and Jeff Carter combined for just one goal on Wednesday.
For the most part, each team's top line has done a good job of holding the other at bay so far in this series. A good part of the action has come from the second group. It could be the difference as the series goes down to the wire.
Key for Los Angeles: Get Back to Scoring Goals
The Kings had scored at least one goal in 10 consecutive periods before the Blackhawks kept them off the scoresheet in the third period of Game 5—then the overtime, then the second overtime.
Now, the highest-scoring team in the playoffs has gone 48:56 without a goal.
Earlier in the series, Los Angeles went 73:39 without scoring. Tyler Toffoli potted the team's only goal of Game 1 at 4:35 of the second period, then it wasn't until 18:14 of the second period of Game 2 that Justin Williams kicked open the door to help the Kings to take control of the series.
Los Angeles is averaging an impressive 3.42 goals per game so far in the playoffs, nearly half a goal better than Chicago's 2.94. They also boast the NHL's three top postseason scorers: Anze Kopitar with 23 points, Jeff Carter with 21 and Marian Gaborik with 18.
After spending a good part of the regular season mired in a scoring slump, the Kings need to do what they now do best—score goals—if they hope to oust Chicago and advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Key for Chicago: Crawford Stays in the Zone
With his Chicago Blackhawks holding a 3-2 lead after one period, goaltender Corey Crawford displayed some noteworthy frustration as he skated off the ice at intermission, via @MyRegularFace.
Crawford's actions led to some speculation that he might be injured, but he finished the game and played his best hockey when it mattered most, during the third period and sudden-death overtime.
He didn't get much run support in Games 3 or 4 , but after the 'Hawks stormed out with three first-period goals, it's likely that Crawford was simply frustrated that he couldn't shut the door for his team.
If Chicago had been bounced from the playoffs on the Kings' second period go-ahead goal—a 25-foot softy from Tanner Pearson—Crawford would have taken a big share of the blame for a season gone wrong. Once the 'Hawks bailed him out and tied the game, the 29-year-old did everything in his power to ensure that his team would fight another day.
It worked. Now Crawford needs to carry that strong play into Game 6.
Key for Los Angeles: Quick Controls Rebounds
Jonathan Quick's an unorthodox goalie but when he's playing his best, he's a sponge.
Quick absorbs shots and doesn't usually give up many rebounds or second-chance opportunities, keeping the mayhem around his crease to a minimum.
On Wednesday, that wasn't the case. Chicago's second goal was scored when Johnny Oduya cruised down Main Street after Quick sent a rebound into the slot off a Patrick Kane shot. The third came when Brandon Saad followed up on an Andrew Shaw shot. The fourth was Ben Smith's conversion of the big rebound that came off a shot from Saad.
The Blackhawks were finding lots of space on the ice and getting bodies into prime scoring locations, but it's not like Quick to hand over so many juicy opportunities.
If Corey Crawford is able to carry his elevated play into Game 6, Quick will need to get back to brick-wall mode to help his team seal this series.
Key for Chicago: Ride the Momentum
Both Los Angeles and Chicago can draw from recent experience when facing high-pressure elimination situations.
Wednesday's win marked the fourth straight year that the 'Hawks have pulled out an overtime win while facing elimination. The others came in Game 7 of Round 2 against Detroit in 2013, in Game 5 of Round 1 against the Phoenix Coyotes in 2012 and in Game 6 of their first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011.
Against Vancouver and Phoenix, the 'Hawks weren't able to ride the overtime wins to victory. They ultimately lost both those series but figured it out last year against Detroit. The memory of that comeback was palpable from the moment Chicago stepped on the ice at the United Center for Game 5.
Two early goals showed the team's determination. Even after falling behind in the second period, Patrick Kane and his team still believed they'd get the job done. "I don't think we were nervous," Kane told Corey Masisak of NHL.com. "We knew we had a whole period to try and get one back. It worked out that we got one early, so it made things a lot better."
Kane thinks the series has once again tilted back in Chicago's favor. From Shawn Roarke of NHL.com. "You see momentum in this series, how it can shift. L.A.'s had a lot of it. I think it's our turn now to hold on to it and keep that momentum."
Key for Los Angeles: Match Chicago's Resolve
Can Los Angeles only win under extreme pressure?
The Kings sure don't make it easy on themselves.
After fighting back from potential elimination six times in the first two rounds, Los Angeles wasn't able to steer a 4-3 third-period lead home to victory—the first time they've given up such a lead in these playoffs.
From Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times: “It's different,” Kings forward Tanner Pearson said of trying to stay ahead in a series instead of catching up. “It's in the back of your head, but we've got to come out and play like we have to win to keep on going. I think that will help us.”
As Wednesday's game went down to the wire, the Blackhawks looked every bit like the determined bunch that fought back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in 2013. The Kings had their chances but couldn't deliver the defining shot that would have sent them to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Kings have shown in the past that they can handle this situation. In 2012, they had a 3-1 lead against the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final before losing Game 5 on the road by a score of 2-1. Los Angeles came back to Staples Center and won Game 6 with authority by a score of 6-1, capturing the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup.