Over the last several years, matchups between the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have become intense affairs, even in the regular season. Together, they own five of the last six Stanley Cups. Chicago always brings a playoff atmosphere with them when they come to Staples Center.
The Kings set the pace early in this game by generating most of the shot attempts in the first. However, the chances Chicago was getting on were certainly quality, with many of them coming right in front of the net. The Kings were mostly playing a very physical, but still defensively sound game, as they used hard checks to separate Blackhawks from the puck. The game felt mostly even until the first powerplay was gifted to Chicago via a Tyler Toffoli hold about halfway into the period.
The Kings' penalty kill seemed off to a fine start until Anze Kopitar simply didn't put enough oomph on a pass to Dustin Brown that allowed the Blackhawks to regain possession in the slot for a net-front shot that didn't give Jonathan Quick much of a chance. Fortunately, the goal did not deter the Kings, and they increased the pace of their attack the rest of the period. In the final seconds, Brown was able to draw an interference call against Andrew Desjardins, which meant the Kings would start the second with nearly all of their power play time.
The Kings' power play featured fine puck movement but they really weren't able to generate the net-front traffic necessary or find dangerous passing lanes down low to generate a true threat on their man advantage. The better news for the Kings is that it would be the second and last penalty of the game. They were able to play a physical game for the remainder of the contest without taking another penalty.
As for the start of the second, it was exceptionally good for the Kings. Chicago went over eight minutes without a single shot on goal to start the period. The Kings were on a torrid pace, generating a ton of attempts and chances in the Blackhawks' end. This allowed for a very familiar feeling of resignation when the Blackhawks' first true spat of zone time resulted in a Niklas Hjalmarsson shot from up high that beat a heavily screened Quick. The Kings showed resiliency by responding with the same pace of driving play they had been maintaining before the second tally of the game.
If you're angry after reading this far, I am happy to tell you that you've reached the good news. Jeff Carter's line had been generating a good share of the quality chances early in the game, and it was his line that scored the first Kings goal less than a minute into the period. After Scott Darling kicked out the rebound off of a Milan Lucic shot, Carter found himself all alone down low with room to stick-handle. Carter easily elevated a puck past Darling, and the Kings felt distinctly in the game at that point.
The Kings first goal did not provoke a response from the Blackhawks, who may have been tired after their game the night before. The Kings continued to spend time in the Chicago zone after their first goal, and were generally able to enter the zone with possession as defenders backed off along the boards. To Chicago's credit, most of the chances they did allow were not of the highest quality, despite spending most of the time in their own zone. Things were starting to look dire as the game closed in on five minutes to go.
For the next goal, the Kings have to thank Brent Seabrook. On what should have been a routine zone exit, Seabrook simply overskated the puck, allowing Kopitar to easily steal it and head for the net. Kopitar was able to draw defenders low to one side of the note, and a backhand diagonal pass found a familiar face, Marian Gaborik. Gaborik patiently waited for the pads of Darling to open up before putting the tying goal between them.
Keeping to the the theme of the game, the equalizing goal still did not cause the Blackhawks to stir, and the Kings owned the rest of the third as well. The period did close with a nail-biting moment, however, when Jonathan Toews was able to skate in on Quick in the closing seconds of the period. Fortunately Quick made the save and the Kings were off to overtime again.
The Kings were able to win initial possession in the three on three overtime and the contest looked fairly evenly matched at that point. Both teams were utilizing the open space and retreating the puck into their own zone to open things up again. They were able to generate some quality chances, and the Kings had their share of butt-clenching moments. Alec Martinez was able to break up a two on one with a nicely placed stick on a pass, but Quick's reaction to a puck that bounced up and off his pads was the heart-stopping moment of the overtime for Kings fans. If Quick had not batted the puck out of the air, it would have been a sad ending for Kings fans.
But it's time to talk about Gaborik again. Kopitar found Gaborik with a pass that was perfectly placed for him to enter the zone with speed with a good distance from a weak backcheck. Gaborik skated across the front of the net and quickly fired the puck stick-side to end the game. The Kings got what felt like a deserved win, and we were reminded of fond times when two goal deficits weren't so scary. Watch the whole overtime below.
Good morning pic.twitter.com/37GH9GEI1U— LA Kings (@LAKings) November 29, 2015