Kings jump to early lead, take 3-1 series edge over Blackhawks
LOS ANGELES — The ovations started after the Los Angeles Kings’ third goal in 16 minutes to open Game 4 of the Western Conference final, and the home crowd eventually serenaded its team off the ice for intermission.
The low-scoring Kings have become the Stanley Cup playoffs’ highest-scoring team. This defensive powerhouse is shutting down the Chicago Blackhawks’ big stars while pushing the defending champions to the verge of elimination.
Yep, the Kings deserved a hand — even if they insist they still haven’t anything that’s really worth cheering.
Jake Muzzin, Marian Gaborik and captain Dustin Brown scored in a dominant first period, and Los Angeles beat Chicago 5-2 Monday night to take a 3-1 series lead.
Muzzin and Drew Doughty each had a goal and an assist, and Jonathan Quick made 22 saves as the Kings moved to the brink of their second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in three seasons with their third straight win over the defending champion Blackhawks.
Gaborik, who joined the Kings on March 5 and immediately catalyzed their offense, took a momentary break from the businesslike atmosphere of the Kings’ dressing room and just plain marveled what Los Angeles has accomplished this spring.
“To come into every game with that confidence, to have that mojo that you can win every game, that’s the difference,” Gaborik said. “It’s great to come to a team like this and be part of a winning culture.”
Tanner Pearson added an empty-net goal for the Kings, who have been to the NHL finals just twice in franchise history, winning their only title in 2012. One year after Los Angeles lost the conference finals in five games to Chicago, the Kings have their own chance to close it out in five.
Game 5 is Wednesday in Chicago.
“We’re not looking ahead,” Kings forward Justin Williams said. “Chicago, I believe they’ve been down 3-1 before. Every team has been through experiences that have made them better. Stanley Cup championship teams like Chicago and us, we’ve been through a lot. We’ve persevered through a lot, and they’re down 3-1, we’re trying to squash them, and they’re trying to get some life.”
Two days after the Kings gritted out a 4-3 victory over Chicago in Game 3, they won again at Staples Center by scoring three goals on their first six shots of Game 4, capping an incredible three-game offensive performance by the lowest-scoring NHL team to make the postseason.
After trailing 2-0 late in the second period of Game 2, Los Angeles scored 13 goals in less than 100 minutes, capped by a dominant first period in Game 4.
Muzzin scored on a power play. Gaborik added his 10th goal of the postseason off Duncan Keith’s turnover. Brown banged a puck into an open net for another power-play goal, his first score since Game 7 of the first round against San Jose.
Cue the standing ovations.
Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell scored and Corey Crawford stopped 16 shots for the Blackhawks, who didn’t get rolling until they trailed 4-0 late in the second period.
“I don’t think we played that poorly,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. “We made some mistakes, and their confidence snowballed on us. Next thing you know, it doesn’t matter how hard you work or how many shifts you spend in their zone. If the bounces aren’t going your way, it’s tough to get back in a game like this. We’re going to find a way to get those bounces again and get things rolling our way. We’ll work ourselves out of it.”
The Blackhawks escaped a 3-1 hole in the second round against Detroit last season, but that’s the only time in franchise history Chicago has rallied from that deficit — and the Kings are an entirely different postseason challenge.
“It’s not a good position to be in,” said Patrick Kane, who assisted on Bickell’s goal for his first point in the series. “Coming into this series, we’d be lying if we thought we’d be in this position, but it happens. Got no one to blame but ourselves, so we’re the only ones that can get ourselves out of it.”
After their dominant opening period, the Kings kept pressing in the second, and Doughty put a long shot through traffic midway through the period. Doughty, the Kings’ leader in ice time, has goals in back-to-back games after scoring just once in the first 16 playoff games.
Chicago finally beat Quick when Saad scored on a backhand. The Kings sat back on defense to start the third period, and Bickell got just his second goal in eight games when he jumped on a loose puck in the slot with 10:31 to play.
*Photo courtesy of Harry How/Getty Images