The Los Angeles Kings scored nine minutes in and didn't look back, grabbing a 5-2 win and taking control of the Western Conference Finals. The Chicago Blackhawks didn't play badly, but special teams doomed them early, and now their backs are against the wall.
Let's start with those special teams, shall we? The Kings and the Blackhawks have each preached discipline, and while neither team was out of control, both teams went to the box twice in the first period and twice in the second. That resulted in a number of opportunities to change the outlook of Game Four, and in scoring on both of their PP opportunities in the opening frame, LA did just that. First, they denied two Chicago power plays, allowing very little to trouble Jonathan Quick. After taking care of that, the scoring began.
The first goal was courtesy of Jake Muzzin, who now has four PP points in the playoffs after getting just five during the regular season. As he did in Game 2, he went top shelf; what was baffling was just how much time he had to creep in and aim his wrister after he was set up by Tyler Toffoli and Drew Doughty. As you can see in the picture at the top of this article, it also meant we got to see the Muzzin "WOO" again. The special teams success would continue, but before LA got their second power play tally, we got to see a little bit more of that Kopitar-Gaborik magic. After two days of hearing all about "That '70s Line," you'd forgotten about Anze Kopitar, hadn't you?
Wait, you hadn't?
Oh, smart. Because he made the play of the night two minutes after Muzzin's goal, nicking the puck from Duncan Keith and firing a perfect pass for Marian Gaborik to tap in on the doorstep. The best part? Kopitar was wearing a mic tonight...
He seemed relatively pleased with his handiwork.
The second power play goal was scored by Dustin Brown, after a neat bit of movement that brought back memories of Marian Gaborik's Game 7 goal against the Ducks. Muzzin again had the puck on his stick, and instead of taking another shot at Corey Crawford, slid a shot-pass to Justin Williams. Williams tipped it across to Dustin Brown, leaving both Crawford and Brent Seabrook flailing as Brown knocked it into the empty net. 3-0 Kings, and after four minutes of uneventful hockey, a standing ovation sent the Kings off to the locker room.
It felt like there was plenty of time for the Blackhawks to get back in it, but Drew Doughty's goal twelve minutes into the second really took the wind out of their sails. Not that there was a lot of wind in those sails to begin with; despite the looming threat of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the same line, LA did a good job of keeping the game from opening up too much and limited Chicago's scoring chances. The Doughty goal almost felt like a power play goal; a little bit of space for a point shot, and a few bodies in front. The setup was by Kopitar, who provided what Alec Martinez called a "sick look-off."
Brandon Saad roofed a backhand past Jonathan Quick a minute later to make it a 4-1 game, and they proceeded to control the last five minutes of the period. With LA hanging on for dear life, Chicago trapped the Kings in their own zone, and it looked like a last-minute goal was imminent. Thankfully, Andrew Shaw decided to grab on to Drew Doughty's stick and hold on for dear life. He succeeded in taking Doughty off the ice with him, but LA got a much-needed line change and got to intermission with their three-goal lead intact.
LA was sensational in the third periods of Games 2 and 3. They weren't on that level tonight, but they didn't need to be. Instead, they just had to limit the damage, and they did that. Sure, the first 12 minutes or so were a little hairy, especially when a flurry of Hawks shots led to that first line finally breaking through. Jonathan Quick stoned Patrick Kane and Drew Doughty made a remarkable stick save to deny Jonathan Toews, but Bryan Bickell ruined it by backhanding one over Quick to make it 4-2. However, after allowing that and getting a couple more stops from Quick, the Kings' defense was lights out.
Over the final seven minutes of the game, Chicago attempted a grand total of four shots. Those shots, in order:
The term for that is "suffocating." Tanner Pearson scored on the empty net attempt after Carter's shot bounced off the boards, meaning that everyone on the second line continued their scoring streak. That was the icing on the cake. (Actually, the icing on the cake was probably the game-ending streamers being released.) The 5-2 win puts LA one game away from a return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. We know better than anyone that three wins =/= four wins in the playoffs, but if LA can do exactly what they've done in these last three games, they'll be just fine.