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Recap, Chicago Blackhawks @ Los Angeles Kings: Jeff!

On the night of Gaborik’s return, LA wins thanks to the guy who’s kept the Kings’ offense afloat in his absence.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Before this game, we highlighted key players for each team. With apologies to Vince Hinostroza (who actually had a good game) and Marian Gaborik (who’s back!), we should have known that it’d still be all about Jeff Carter. Glad we mentioned him too.

[Box Score]

But since you asked (you did ask, right?)... let’s talk about Gaborik real quick!

He played 11:49, which put him ahead of only Nick Shore, Devin Setoguchi, and Jordan Nolan among Kings forwards. Darryl Sutter stayed true to his word about easing him in, though he did put Gaborik out for a shift with a minute left in the third. (He and Shore were on the forecheck when Brent Seabrook threw the puck into the stands, taking a delay of game penalty.) We didn’t get far enough into OT to see whether he’d get a chance to replicate his overtime magic from a year ago, which was also on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend against Chicago. Gaborik only had two attempts on goal, one of which was blocked, but the other one was Grade-A:

So Gaborik didn’t chip in offensively. Early on, no one did, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. Of the first fourteen shots on goal in last night’s game, thirteen of them came from the Kings. The other one? A deflection by Patrick Kane which beat a helpless Peter Budaj. That was highly irritating not just because of the imbalance in shots, and not just because Patrick Kane is Patrick Kane, but because LA probably ought to have scored by then. They had two power plays prior to Kane’s goal, and they also had a Tyler Toffoli tally (say that ten times fast) cancelled out by goaltender interference. On the interference, Tanner Pearson pushed Niklas Hjalmarsson toward the crease, and he skidded — rather softly — into Scott Darling. It was enough to impede the goalie, though.

Fortunately, LA’s most consistent scorer up front combined with LA’s most consistent scorer on the blueline early in the second. It was a perfect shift; Carter won the draw, Pearson picked up the puck and fed to Alec Martinez, Martinez went across the blueline to Jake Muzzin, Muzzin went down low to Carter, and Carter went cross-ice to Martinez. Martinez’s shot beat Scott Darling high, extending his team lead in both goals and points for defensemen.

After that 40 scoreless minutes went by. Darling was giving up rebounds and didn’t always look comfortable, but he continued to shut the Kings down. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks got some good chances on Peter Budaj, but he stood up to the pressure, and the Kings’ defense managed to ensure that most of those chances were one and done. Credit to the line of Dwight King, Anze Kopitar, and Trevor Lewis, who did solid work all game on Kane, Artem Anisimov, and Artemi Panarin. A rougher night for Brown/Dowd/Setoguchi, who got very little going and were on the ice for Kane’s goal.

Micah Blake McCurdy, hockeyviz.com

Getting to overtime might have felt like a win for Chicago, who was on the seventh and final game of their road trip AND on a back-to-back. Unfortunately for them, getting to overtime also feels like a win for the Kings, because they usually triumph after regulation. Though the Hawks killed off a minute-long 4-on-3 to start the extra session, Jeff Carter got the puck on his stick before Seabrook could get fully back into the play. Game, set, match, five straight.