I guess it was bound to happen. Jonathan Quick had an off night. Throughout the 2013 regular season, the Los Angeles Kings were able to overcome many of Quick's mediocre-to-bad performances, which is a major reason why they made the playoffs. Remember this game at the United Center? However, LA's struggling offense has given Quick no margin for error, and the two goals they mustered were too little, too late in a 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Lineup changes: Mike Richards was a surprise scratch after suffering some sort of setback, and Jake Muzzin was replaced by Alec Martinez. But the rest of the Kings were nonexistent in the opening minutes as well. The Blackhawks picked up the first four shots, and the annoyingly effective Andrew Shaw put Chicago up 1-0 early. Nick Leddy pinched down to prevent the Kings from leaving the zone, and Trevor Lewis, Alec Martinez, and Matt Greene all drifted to that side of the ice. Viktor Stalberg got the pass and made a quick no-look, behind-the-back feed to Andrew Shaw on the other side, and Shaw had room to fire a wrist shot down low which beat Quick. Some credit should go to the Kings for responding and forcing 13 saves out of Corey Crawford in the first, but most of his work came on shots from the outside. The Kings actually came closest when a Jeff Carter dump-in took a weird bounce off the boards to the front of the net. Tyler Toffoli streaked in and got to the puck first, but a charging Crawford played it like a soccer goalie, diving at Toffoli's feet and making the save.
A 1-0 first period deficit would have been manageable given the play of LA in the first period, but Brent Seabrook scored a backbreaking goal just before intermission. Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa carried the puck in, and Hossa patiently waited for a trailing Seabrook and caught the Kings' D off-guard with another behind-the-back pass. Seabrook took a low slapper from just above the circle, and it beat Quick on the far side. It was a killer goal to allow at the end of the first, and the Kings felt that blow in the second period, their weakest of the game. After LA opened the period with a fruitless power play, the Blackhawks outshot the Kings 11-5 and capitalized on a neutral-zone penalty by Dwight King five minutes in. Patrick Sharp got the puck at the point near the end of the man advantage, and his shot through traffic ended up loose in front. While Bryan Bickell got a stick on the puck, Robyn Regehr was able to slap the puck away from Bickell... through Jonathan Quick's legs and into his own net.
Chicago put the game away with another goal two minutes later, with our good buddy Michal Handzus providing the finishing blow on Quick. Alec Martinez got caught up at his own blue line, and Patrick Sharp zoomed by with Handzus carrying the puck. With Greene defending the middle and preventing a pass to a now-open Sharp, Handzus elected to shoot and scored on a wrister to chase Quick from the net at 9:20 of the second period. Jonathan Bernier got his first playoff experience and stopped all nine shots he faced in the game's second half, but at that point, Chicago had backed off offensively, allowing the Kings to even up the possession statistics and get a few of the scoring chances they had been lacking.
The Kings finally got on the board after an interesting final five minutes of the second. Bernier made his best save, sticking his glove out to prevent another accidental Regehr deflection from finding the net. Rob Scuderi made a beauty of a hip-check to flip Seabrook and Dustin Brown made an open-ice hit on Handzus (it was one of Brown's few noticeable moments). Corey Crawford made a glove save on Dustin Penner and Toffoli hit the post, but Jeff Carter rewarded the pressure by scoring in the last minute. After Voynov knocked the puck down at the blue lune with his glove, Toffoli pounced on the loose puck and made a quick sideways feed to Carter, who beat Crawford from a sharp angle.
The third was notable for two events. First, a boiling-over of tensions halfway through, as Kyle Clifford engaged Jonathan Toews in a scrum. Clifford played the aggressor and landed a couple shots, causing Corey Crawford to break up the fight and go after Clifford. Toews was pleased with his goalie's involvement and gave him some kudos, while Jonathan Bernier stared down the ice and made what was either an exasperated shrug or a potential challenge to fight.
Nothing doing, though. From there, the result was never in doubt, but the Kings picked up a power play goal to ruin the long Blackhawks PK streak and solidify Tyler Toffoli's place in the lineup. He slotted in alongside Carter and Penner as a replacement for Richards and showed spark all day, and late in the third he jumped on a bouncing pass from Penner and skillfully roofed it past Crawford. The play drew an awed laugh from Darren Pang and praise from the announcing booth; if nothing else, it eases some of the concerns around the absence of Mike Richards. The next step, of course, is to capitalize on the power play success, and while we're at it, get more than one goal at even strength. Until the first line starts generating more chances, it'll continue to be a struggle.