Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, and Dustin Brown have combined for one point in the first three games of this series. In spite of that, the Los Angeles Kings have a 2-1 series lead. For that, you can thank the supporting cast… namely, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson. The Kings held onto home-ice advantage with another great third period effort against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Hey, look, Chicago scored the first goal again! Thankfully, it was offset pretty quickly, but that shorthanded goal looked pretty dreadful for 50 seconds. Justin Williams made an ill-advised choice to spin around in the neutral zone, and before he could deliver the puck to a teammate, Jonathan Toews snatched the puck away and moved in on Jonathan Quick. Quick appeared to be expecting Toews to go high, but Toews nonchalantly slid the puck five-hold to give Chicago an early lead. However, on the same power play, Jeff Carter’s feed got past Marian Gaborik to Slava Voynov, who had a bunch of time to line up his shot. An initial fake cleared the shooting lane, and he beat Corey Crawford stick-side.
Much was made of the Kopitar-Toews matchup coming in, and it happened quite a bit in the first; however, Toews, Marian Hossa, and Bryan Bickell got out against Mike Richards, Dwight King, and Justin Williams later on, and Toews took advantage. Hossa fed Michal Roszival, who evaded Richards and shot from the high slot. The initial shot was stopped, but Toews outmuscled Jake Muzzin and converted the rebound. Toews was the talk of the first period, and rightfully so; however, he was largely neutralized over the remainder of the evening.
The second period wasn’t as great as the scoreboard showed, but LA did have good stretches. The first was by the second line, which generated a couple chances and helped the Richards-Clifford-Lewis line come inches from an equalizer; Trevor Lewis had an open net, but juuuuust couldn’t drag the puck away from the side of the net. The second line came right back and tied the game on their very next shift, after Johnny Oduya’s clearing attempt hit the ref in the corner. Tanner Pearson got the puck back, fought off Brent Seabrook, and found Carter on the doorstep. Easy goal for Carter, who escaped the attention of former King Michal Handzus.
The next shift for Pearson-Carter-Toffoli resulted in some more offensive zone time, but the outcome was a high-sticking penalty for Pearson. The next shift after that? Another goal. A few seconds after Pearson’s penalty expired, Willie Mitchell flipped the puck forward and Carter tipped it into the offensive zone. Toffoli went up the middle, splitting Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson and sneaking the puck under Crawford’s pad. Just as the first NBC intermission report had been the Jonathan Toews Show, the second one was… wait for it… That 70’s Show!
(Everyone is using the nickname now, so I figured I’d get in on it.)
The Kings lost a bit of steam in the final five minutes, but Quick was solid, and the PK unit killed off two penalties to keep their 3-2 lead heading into the final period. As key as Quick had been in maintaining that lead, Crawford was equally good in stopping a few LA chances early in the third. How did the Kings compensate? By getting even more chances! It’s impossible to top the five-goal third the Kings came up with on Wednesday, but in a way, their response to having a one-goal lead was just as impressive. You’d expect the Kings to hang on for dear life; instead, they dominated, getting nine scoring chances and icing the game.
The fourth goal (and eventual game-winner) came just after a Roszival penalty expired. The LA power play has been confident and patient lately, and why wouldn’t you be when you have Drew Doughty firing away? Corey Crawford didn’t see Doughty’s shot (released at :00 on the power play) until it hit the net behind him, and the Kings had a 4-2 lead. The Blackhawks barely sniffed Quick’s net until they pulled their goalie, and when Patrick Sharp tipped in a goal with four seconds left, it was meaningless.
The bad things tonight were familiar: ill-timed and frequent penalties, occasional defensive lapses, and an occasional inability to clear the puck. Thankfully, there were more good things. And by the way, that first line looked pretty darn good in the third period. If they’re clicking at the same time as That 70’s Line… watch out. LA leads the Western Conference Finals 2-1, and they only have to wait through one off-day to continue their pursuit of the Stanley Cup.