Must-win games don't happen in January. They just don't.
Having said that... the Los Angeles Kings really needed that one, didn't they?
So, a 4-3 win for the Kings over the Chicago Blackhawks. Let's kick it off with kudos for Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, and Dwight King. As much as we've been discussing the good ol' Carter-Richards bromance, those two have barely played together this season! Carter's most frequent linemates have been Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, and with Pearson looking at a couple more months off, Carter's gonna be relying on Toffoli to play sidekick down the stretch. Today, the pair was terrific, and King didn't look intimidated by the brilliance of his two linemates. Six points and three goals for the line, along with team-leading possession numbers.
(And yes, Carter was asked in the postgame interview about the absence of Mike Richards. Sadness detected.)
They were the top three forwards, but they weren't necessarily alone; through two periods, the Kings were the more dangerous of the two teams overall. Aside from one rough bounce early on, when Brayden McNabb blocked a shot directly to a wide-open Patrick Kane, LA was controlling play pretty well, and even with Chicago getting their share of rushes the other way, the Kings were generally keeping the Blackhawks from getting dangerous looks. The problem for LA? Bad penalties, two by Drew Doughty and two by Dustin Brown, put LA on their heels far too often. Chicago converted the first (Patrick Sharp getting the goal), but the Kings survived the latter three.
The odd thing, though, was that Brown was really, really good apart from those penalties. (I know that's a big "apart from" but stay with me.) With Richards getting waived, there's been plenty of chatter about Brown, who has a similar contract and has underachieved in a similar fashion. The difference is that Brown provides value in a number of other departments, and the way in which he gets under the skin of fans and players alike is hilarious... pick a Blackhawks fan's Twitter tonight and read through it for evidence. Brown was in front of the net for Jake Muzzin's late winner, which appeared to deflect off of Brown's stick initially but on further review went off the stick of Niklas Hjalmarsson instead. It would have been a nice reward for him to get the goal
The third period started with the two teams tied, and it was the Kings' worst overall. At least, it was through the first two-thirds of the frame., and it bottomed out after Andrew Shaw's go-ahead goal. Teuvo Teravainen (who apparently played six minutes in the first two periods showed good control through the neutral zone, drawing enough attention from Muzzin and Doughty to give Shaw a little bit of room. Shaw's shot beat Jonathan Quick short side to put Chicago up 3-2; not a great goal to give up, but Quick made up for it with big saves at the end of the game on Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa.
The Kings hadn't even gotten a shot in eight minutes before the most critical sequence of the game, just past the thirteen-minute mark. Anze Kopitar won an offensive-zone faceoff, Robyn Regehr made perhaps the best pinch I've ever seen him make to keep the puck in, Kopitar fed King, King made a perfect blind pass to Toffoli, and Toffoli's shot was as good as King's pass. I was already starting a negative recap at that point (oops), and with LA struggling to find anything to build on, it was going to take perfect execution to knot things up. They got it, and the fortunate bounce on Muzzin's goal (and the goalpost's help on a late Jonathan Toews chance) turned that deserved point into an absolutely huge two points.
Credit to guys like Regehr, Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, and Alec Martinez, who provided less obvious contributions on both ends throughout the game. Tonight, though, was about Carter, who provided the spark. Both of Carter's goals came from his ability to create his own shot, with the first coming as he moved from the goal line to the slot, and the second coming as he moved from one side, to behind the net, to the other side. Both times, the Kings were down one goal, and both times, he simply snapped a wrist shot by Corey Crawford once he had the necessary space to get the Kings back in it. Three times LA was down by a goal, and three times they knotted things up thanks to their snipers; tonight, the resilience paid off at the end for the first time in a while.