Thirteen months ago today, Dustin Brown scored a hat trick, carrying the Los Angeles Kings to a win over the Chicago Blackhawks and setting his team up for a big push towards the playoffs. Sure, the Kings are in a better spot this year, but the team had been shut out in consecutive games coming into tonight's nationally televised showdown with Chicago. They were also losing ground to the Wild and the Canucks in the West. And really, who wants to go to the White House after losing three in a row? LA needed to dig deep and show some determination tonight.
Well, how's this for determination? The Kings trailed three separate times tonight, against the NHL's best team, on the road. And they won. Brown's late goal was the difference in a 5-4 win at the United Center.
Let's recap what the Kings needed to overcome tonight...
A slow start and an early deficit? Check. Jonathan Toews won an offensive zone faceoff and the Hawks moved the puck around, and Michael Frolik received the puck in the open slot. It was pretty well defended by Keaton Ellerby, but Frolik's shot cleanly beat Jonathan Quick five-hole to give the Hawks the lead just six minutes in. Chicago held the Kings to seven shots in the first period.
Poorly timed penalties? Check. Mike Richards hit Viktor Stalberg with his stick on a follow-through from his failed slap shot and drew blood; some debate over whether it should have been called (I presume they called it because Richards whiffed on his attempt, so technically it wasn't considered a shot), but the Kings were stuck killing a double minor. During the second period, the Kings got penalties twice immediately in the aftermath of goals; the first threatened to take their momentum away, while the second could have put the Hawks in the driver's seat.
Goaltending woes? Check. Quick didn't have an entirely bad game, but allowing four goals on the first 17 shots ain't cutting it. Frolik's goal wasn't too good, and Patrick Kane (in Quick's defense, he's a decent player) made him look silly on the Hawks' go-ahead goal late in the second. Quick needed to step up late in order to help the Kings push forward.
The trends? Check. The equivalent of 2.5 games without a goal. Consecutive losses to Chicago. A losing record on the road. The nationally televised woes which still haunt Kings fans. Lines that had never played together before. Oh, and a team that was 24-3-3, had only been outshot by double digits once all year, and quite simply doesn't blow many leads.
The early deficit was overcome in the second period thanks to Anze Kopitar. After a better start to the second period, Kopitar made his own luck, taking the puck at center ice and pressing into the offensive zone. His flip in came right back to him after a bounce off the linesmen, and Kopitar stickhandled through a couple Blackhawks and roofed one to tie the game. Corey Crawford didn't have a chance.
The penalty to Richards got killed off after a strong four minutes, and though a two or three player screen nearly led to a Patrick Kane goal, the shot hit the post and the Kings were able to limit the damage from Richards' stick. After Kopitar's goal, Dustin Brown took an interference penalty, but the PK stepped up in a big way. Jarret Stoll won the initial faceoff, Slava Voynov and Trevor Lewis worked the puck free, and Stoll and Lewis were away on a 2-on-1. To no one's surprise, Stoll elected to shoot, but even a prepared Crawford wasn't going to keep Stoll's high wrister out of the net. One more test came for the Los Angeles PK unit after Michael Frolik scored on a nice deflection and Drew Doughty went to the box, but Chicago couldn't even get a shot on net.
The goaltending woes put the Kings in two more holes. Patrick Kane broke free with 40 seconds left and deked Jonathan Quick, who was essentially turned all the way around by the time Kane slid the puck underneath his back to put the Kings up. The resilience here came courtesy of Drew Doughty; just after "Chelsea Dagger" stopped playing, Doughty got a pass inside his own blue line and as time ticked down, he did... this.
Five defenders couldn't stop Drew Doughty; he's still pretty good, isn't he? Dwight King did finish the play with his skate, but it wasn't a kick, and Doughty's effort evened the game going into the third. Two players who were everywhere tonight put Chicago up one more time; Jonathan Toews backhanded a blocked shot from Frolik in tight on Quick, and Chicago still had a 4-3 lead with twelve minutes to go. Sutter's #1 goaltender needed to respond, and he did, making eight stops in the remainder of the game.
So now, it was time to exorcise some demons. For those still worried about the Kings' performances on NBC, be glad we have a guy who had never played in a nationally televised contest. Rookie Tyler Toffoli tied the game at 4 with a quick wrist shot with 11:54 to go; he took the shot with the puck basically at his toes, and the surprise factor and the presence of Jordan Nolan and Nick Leddy in front helped the puck find its way in. The road woes, the Chicago aura, the new lines, and the past struggles? LA emphatically put them all to bed by firing 17 shots in the third and keeping the Blackhawks on the back foot, and the Kings deserved Dustin Brown's game-winner. Kopitar won a draw and Dustin Brown immediately attemped a shot, but after it was blocked by Johnny Oduya, Brown followed his shot and had beat a lunging Crawford to give the Kings a 5-4 lead with 1:27 left. Quick and the defense held off a final flurry to complete the Kings' biggest win of the season.
Share your thoughts on the victory below. The White House and (Chicago native!) Barack Obama will be greeting a very pleased hockey team tomorrow.