A number of streaks came to an end tonight. The Los Angeles Kings entered last night's game with a 15-game winning streak at the Staples Center. The Kings hadn't lost at home when scoring first all year. And in a "3-2 league," the Kings hadn't lost a 3-2 game in regulation or OT since February 17. Unfortunately, when the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Kings last night, it put one more streak in jeopardy: the Kings' six consecutive playoff series victories. The defending champs now trail 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals, and they are most certainly on the ropes.
It was an okay start for LA, one that was made a whole lot better when (who else?) Slava Voynov got the Kings on the board soon after . There's been so much focus on the (negative) performance of Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, and the (positive) performance of Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner, and the Kings' fourth line has largely been ignored. For good reason, too; as Robert outlined on Wednesday, it's not like they've been doing all that much. But the fourth line got things going after Slava Voynov did good work to knock the puck forward. Colin Fraser took control and fed Kyle Clifford in front. The initial bid was stopped, but as all three forwards crashed the net, Clifford got the puck loose and came around the net to set up Voynov. You could hear the crowd's roar of anticipation before Voynov even let go of his slap shot, and they were rewarded as it beat Corey Crawford stick side. Make it six goals for the defenseman in the 2013 playoffs... astounding.
So for the second straight game, the Kings led early. Andrew Shaw soon took a dumb penalty (stunner!) to give LA a chance to further seize control, but the power play continued its struggles, and Chicago rode the wave to a few minutes of strong play. That culminated in the equalizer, from another "Who else?" guy, Bryan Bickell. He's given teams fits in the postseason, but this wasn't one of his more impressive goals; after he picked up a bouncing puck in the neutral zone, he simply skated in and used Robyn Regehr as a screen on a wrist shot. No excuse for Jonathan Quick, who appeared to see the puck all the way; at least, until it dipped, hit his glove and squirmed through for the game-tying goal. Quick would make up somewhat for it with a sprawling save on Bickell a couple minutes later, but damage=done. Crawford responded with a nice save on Justin Williams point-blank to keep things 1-1.
LA didn't take long to take the lead back in the second period, thanks to the second line. Tyler Toffoli made a brilliant chip of the boards while getting hit by Andrew Shaw. Jeff Carter showcased everything but his wrist shot by moving the puck from the Kings' half of the ice, speeding down the wing past Nick Leddy, holding off Leddy, and spinning to get the puck to the net. And Dustin Penner put home the rebound, though Crawford should have done better to cover or clear the puck from the front of the net. Regardless, the puck got through the front, Penner slammed it into the net, and the Kings led 2-1. Justin Williams nearly made it 3-1 on a breakaway after a great lead pass by Voynov (he'll be getting PAID, and for a lot more than his goal-scoring). But Crawford's poke check prevented a goal, and Chicago went the other way to draw a hooking call on Matt Greene. Anze Kopitar put the puck over the glass to put LA down 5-on-3, but Jarret Stoll, Drew Doughty, and Rob Scuderi killed the first penalty and the Kings held off the rest. Unfortunately, that was one of the final bright spots for LA.
As the second period drew to a close, Chicago seized control, and their pressure culminated in Patrick Kane's first goal of the series. After a blocked shot, a cross check by Jonathan Toews (the refs let it go), and some defensive zone scrambling, Niklas Hjalmarsson put a long shot on net that was tipped in front by Bryan Bickell (whose name I am VERY tired of typing). The puck got through Quick, and though the puck was going in, Kane swooped in from the side of the net to make sure it went in. Deflating for the Kings, who are never happier than when they have the lead after 2. Robyn Regehr's interference penalty at the end of the second put the Kings down a man to start the third, but they killed it off! Unfortunately, LA got overexcited and made a bad line change, which set up a 2-on-1 when Bard Richardson couldn't quite reach the puck and dump it in. Michal Handzus and Marian Hossa went the other way against Jake Muzzin, and a turned-around Doughty couldn't get back to hassle Handzus. His pass to Hossa set up a one-timer which Quick came thisclose stopping with his glove.
Suddenly, the Hawks were in the driver's seat. The remaining chances of the third came from the team in the lead, and Quick had to make superb saves on Bickell (after a brutal Regehr turnover) and Kane to keep it a one-goal game. The Kings didn't exactly repay their goalie; only Carter and Kopitar were able to even get a shot on net in the final 20 minutes. Needless to say, it wasn't enough, and the Kings now have to win three in a row and two at the United Center to move on. The Kings didn't look desperate enough in the third; they're gonna have to be desperate tomorrow. Do they have enough in the tank to recover and get back to the Stanley Cup Finals? Regardless, it's been a hell of a run;