The Kings are really good at hockey. Sometimes, when they're taking a plethora of stupid penalties while also looking like they're less likely to score than a dude at a monastery, it's easy to forget this. Luckily, the Kings sent us all a giant reminder in the 3rd period of this hockey game. I'm sorry I doubted you (again), Kings.
The game sure didn't start off promising. The Blackhawks were flying right out of the gate, and were rewarded with two quick power plays. Willie Mitchell was called for holding Patrick Kane less than four minutes into the game, and Matt Greene hooked Brandon Saad to give the Hawks a 5-on-3 advantage. But the Kings' PK, which has certainly had its struggles, came through with flying colors, limiting the uber-dangerous Hawks (entering this game, they had a home ice power play percentage of over thirty-three percent, though oddly enough they were hovering around 5% on the road) to just one lone scoring chance in their extended early power play time. The Hawks kept the momentum rolling, and probably should have scored a goal off of an insane bounce that ended up going to review. As the net cam would eventually show, the only thing that kept the puck out of the net was Blackhawk Peter Regin, whose stick on the goal line actually deflected the puck away at the last possible moment.
Don't feel too bad for the Blackhawks, though. Not long after that crazy bounce, the Hawks would score on their third power play, after Willie Mitchell went to the box for cross checking Patrick Sharp. The Kings got overly aggressive on a shorthanded bid, as Slava Voynov (who, let's be honest, had another really rough night) jumped up into the play while Mike Richards tried an insane pass across to Jeff Carter. That pass failed, leading to a Chicago 2-on-1, and defenseman Nick Leddy put the puck right over Quick's glove on the short side to put the Hawks up 1-0. The Kings wrapped up a forgettable first period with their fourth penalty, as Drew Doughty got beat by Brandon Saad going to the net and was force to hold him up, giving the Hawks another power play that would carry over into the 2nd.
It should be noted that the first period probably felt worse watching it live than it actually was in reality. Nick had scoring chances as just 5-3 Chicago, with a 3-1 edge at even-strength play, which is obviously not exactly awful or anything. Shot attempts were also a bit closer than I thought they would be, with the Hawks only out-attempting the Kings 22-16 (11-6 at evens), 15-11 in unblocked attempts (7-5 at evens). That's certainly not that awful for a period where the Hawks had four power plays compared to just two for the Kings, but obviously handing Chicago that many power plays was the big issue.
The Kings managed to kill off the remaining portion of that last Chicago power play to start the 2nd, but not soon after the Hawks caught LA on a bit of a bad change. Ben Smith ended up with a breakaway as a result and soon enough Chicago had a 2-0 lead, just 1:40 into the frame. There was some talk afterwards that Smith might have actually been offside before he scored it; I just tried to go back and check but NHL.com's highlight that's supposed to be Smith's goal is actually LA's tying goal, for some reason (oops spoilers!). Let's just assume he was totally offsides on the play just to help feed our persecution complex. Another thing that really annoyed me soon after was Michael Rozsival kinda slamming Justin Williams' head into the ice (though, like, slowly and kinda gently; this definitely wasn't an act of violence or anything, more like mockery). Made me kinda wish Dustin Brown really had kneed him in the 2012 Western Conference Final.
Anyway, things were a blur of sadness and despair at this point. The Kings were at least not parading to the penalty box any longer; oddly enough, no penalties were called on either team in the 2nd after the six combined penalties of the 1st. But they didn't seem to be getting much of anywhere against Chicago's stalwart defense, and after watching the Hawks strangle the Kings to death in the 3rd period with a one-goal lead in Game 1, I wasn't feeling very good about their chances down by two late in the 2nd. So I tweeted this:
Joe Michawhateverthefuck basically keeps begging you not to change the channel. (You can change the channel, this game sucks and is over.)— John Carroll (@toshanshuinLA) May 22, 2014
My entire feed is actually pretty hilarious to go back and read now (and/or infuriating, I guess, depending on your point of view). Also I legit broke a glass in anger when the Blackhawks scored their second goal, which seems rather silly and wasteful in hindsight. But anyway, the point: mere moments after I sent this tweet, the Kings scored. Justin Williams scored one of the wackier and luckier goals you'll ever see, but hey, they all count! And only moments after that, Dustin Brown had a great chance to tie the game off of a deflection right in front of Corey Crawford, but Crawford managed to just barely get a left pad on it to preserve the 1-goal lead heading into intermission. The Kings managed to tie the Hawks in shots-on-goal with 19 a piece, but still trailed in scoring chances, with Chicago now ahead 10-6 overall (8-4 at evens). For those bad at math, that made the 2nd period scoring chances 5-3 Chicago, identical to the 1st, with all the chances in the 2nd coming at even-strength play. Which makes sense, given that the less than a minute of carry-over time was the only power play time in the entire period. So the Kings were not being drastically outplayed through two or anything, but they clearly had some work to do if they wanted to get back into this game.
In the third period, the Kings did some work.
Brandon Bollig, the Chicago equivalent of Mike Brown (except he already contributed far more to the Blackhawks than Brown ever has to the Sharks with his epic Game 1 dive that lead to their game-winning goal, so I guess that's not totally fair to Brandon), took a stupid interference penalty just 1:14 into the final frame. That's not too shocking, because Brandon Bollig is a goddamn moron. What is shocking, however, is that the Kings made him pay almost immediately. Just twenty-three seconds into the power play, Drew Doughty (who had a tough game in the #fancystats tonight, though he had brutal zone starts- just 4 in the offensive zone compared to 10 in the defensive zone) wired a shot that got past Corey Crawford, tying the game. Jeff Carter definitely appeared to tip it past Crawford on the replay, but the goal stood as Doughty's for a long time (that becomes important later).
A minute and ten seconds after that, the Chicago Blackhawks got caught with too many dudes on the ice. The always-unbiased NBC didn't like the call, and I'm sure if it came against the Kings I wouldn't have been thrilled either since it did look like the sixth guy jumped right back over the boards, but as everyone likes to remind me on Twitter, bad calls are part of the game. The Kings did exactly what you would have hoped they'd do- they capitalized on their good fortune, scoring their second power play goal of the game. There really wasn't anything special to this goal that ended up being the game-winner; Alec Martinez (tonight's Corsi monster at evens, +11) faked a shot and then passed it off to Jake Muzzin who didn't have a particularly good angle, but somehow Muzzin's slap shot beat Crawford over his blocker on the short side. As Robert pointed out in the postgame thread, Corey's amazing .953 shorthanded save percentage (nope, not a typo, that's what it really was entering tonight) was bound to regress, and boy did it regress hard on that goal.
So in the span of less than six minutes of game time, dating back to the end of the 2nd, the Kings went from trailing 2-0 to leading the Blackhawks 3-2. Amazing. Even more amazingly, the Kings weren't done there.
Less than five minutes later, the Kings would make it 4-2 off of an extremely weird goal. Jeff Carter took a shot that went off of Crawford's blocker and took an amazing bounce straight up into the air- in fact, it bounced so high that the Blackhawks apparently assumed it hit the netting, because they all literally stopped playing. Tanner Pearson, on the other hand, did not stop playing, and he got to the puck after it came back down and immediately fed a completely untouched Tyler Toffoli right in the low slot. As you will probably not be shocked to learn, an untouched Tyler Toffoli directly in front of a goaltender meant the Kings now had a 2-goal lead. Toffoli added to his legend as The Great Hawk Killer, making it 5 goals and 4 assists in 10 career games against them between the playoffs and regular season (stick-tap to Jon Rosen for that one).
Marian Hossa had an excellent chance to halve that lead not soon after, only to thankfully hit the post instead, unable to add to his rather paltry two goals so far in the playoffs (I'm sure someone in Chicago probably thinks he's awful in the playoffs as a result, just like everyone in New York seems to think Rick Nash sucks). And then things got really wacky, as the Blackhawks somehow allowed not one, not two, but three two-on-ones to the Kings in the span of about 90 seconds. Mike Richards elected to shoot on the second one rather than pass, and was stopped by Crawford. On the third two-on-one, Jeff Carter also elected to shoot, and things went much better for him, as he beat Crawford to give the Kings a 5-2 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the game.
A few minutes later Carter added an empty-net goal, and once the scoring was finally changed on the tying goal, that meant young Jeffrey had a hat trick in game 2 of the Western Conference Final. You may recall that he pulled the exact same feat in game 2 of the WCF two years ago against the Coyotes. Hopefully deja vu continues and the Kings win this series in 5 games, too.
Quite a few streaks were broken with this Kings' victory; first of all, Chicago had been a perfect 7-0 at home in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs (3-0 against St. Louis in round 1, 3-0 against the Wild in round 2, and their totally undeserved victory in game 1 against the Kings). As Paul Heyman might say: THE KINGS ARE THE 1 IN 7-1! Also, the Kings hadn't come back in the playoffs when trailing in the 3rd period at all yet this year before tonight. Finally, the Kings had never won a single playoff game in Chicago before tonight, going 0-7 before this. Streaks are made to be broken, y'all.
So in the end, the Kings didn't play their best hockey through 40 minutes, but they weren't dominated, either. And they played so well in the 3rd that they turned around the possession metrics- which had been solidly for Chicago after the 1st and remained so after the 2nd- to their advantage, even though they lead for the vast majority of the period. The Kings ended up with 52% of all shot attempts (55.9% of unblocked attempts) as well as 50.7% of 5v5 shot attempts (54.2% 5v5 unblocked attempts). In shots-on-goal, they ended up out-shooting Chicago 12-6 in the 3rd, turning a 19-19 tie through 40 into a 31-25 edge. And in Nick's scoring chances, the Kings won the period 7-3 (5-3 at evens), resulting in the final chances being exactly even at 13-13 (though Chicago did still end up with an 11-9 edge at evens).
It was an excellent twenty minutes, one of their best of the entire postseason, and the fact that it came against (with all due respect to the Sharks and absolutely zero respect to the Ducks) their toughest competition thus far is just icing on the cake. So the Kings will return to Los Angeles to host Chicago on Saturday at 5 pm with the series tied 1-1, and given that they could easily be ahead in the series 2-0 (if anything they played a more complete overall game in game 1, as Darryl Sutter pointed out himself in his post game press conference), it's tough not to feel good about their game right now. At the very least it's a far more enviable position than last year, when they came home to play game 3 against the Hawks down 0-2. The Kings have been a resilient team all postseason, and they proved it once again tonight. Hopefully people like some idiot who occasionally fills in for Eric writing recaps on this blog will remember that next time.