The Los Angeles Kings racked up three first period goals and never looked back as they beat the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 5-2 on Monday night.
The victory gives them a 3-1 series lead with a chance to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Final with a win Wednesday. Bryan Bickell and Brandon Saad had the Blackhawks' goals.
With their lines shuffled up, the Blackhawks came out of the gate in this one full of energy, but they couldn’t quite convert on any of their opportunities. Patrick Kane looked positively gleeful to be paired up with Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell, but his speed didn’t translate into shots as the game remained scoreless.
After once again failing to convert on two consecutive power plays (one of which was negated by a penalty on Marian Hossa), the Blackhawks watched as the Kings capitalized on the momentum with a goal of their own. Jeff Carter got the puck in front of the net and cycled it back out to the point, and when he cut back in front of Corey Crawford, Jake Muzzin skated through the slot and blasted a slap shot past the goaltender to give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead.
Just a few minutes later, the Blackhawks made another mistake, and the Kings pounced. Duncan Keith turned the puck over below the goal line to Anze Kopitar, and the Kings’ best defensive forward threaded a great pass to Marian Gaborik, who one-timed the puck past Crawford and gave the Kings a two-goal advantage.
With the Blackhawks reeling, Patrick Sharp continued the parade to the penalty box as he was whistled for a silly offensive zone infraction, and the Kings scored again. This time it was Kings captain Dustin Brown doing the damage, collecting a rebound off a tip from Justin Williams and depositing it into the back of the net to give his team a commanding 3-0 lead.
Fortunately for the Hawks, they were able to get out of the rest of the first period unscathed, but they gave the Kings another opportunity to score early in the second as Andrew Shaw was sent to the penalty box after a silly cross-checking penalty in the offensive zone. The Kings weren’t able to score on this one however, with Crawford making a key save on Carter to keep his team within shouting distance.
Despite the Blackhawks’ predicament, they didn’t show any real sense of urgency as the second period wore on, and eventually the Kings got another insurance goal to add to their total. With Williams and Dwight King getting inside position on Chicago’s blue liners in front of the net, Drew Doughty took advantage of the screen and blasted a slap shot past Crawford to put Los Angeles up by four goals.
A little over a minute later, the Blackhawks finally got on the board. Michal Rozsival made a nice play at the blue line to intercept a clearing attempt from Alec Martinez, and he quickly passed the puck to Brandon Saad, who lifted a backhanded shot over Jonathan Quick’s glove to pull his team within three goals at 4-1.
For the remainder of the period, the Blackhawks continued to press the tempo hard, but once again, indiscipline killed them. After arguably their best sustained possession of the game, Shaw was sent off the ice after another horrendous penalty, this time for holding Doughty’s stick in front of the net. The Kings’ defenseman was sent off as well after taking a couple of punches at the back of Shaw’s head, but neither team could take advantage of the ensuing 4-on-4 as the Kings maintained a three goal edge after two periods.
As the third period got underway, the Blackhawks' sense of urgency wasn't readily apparent as they struggled to so much as get the puck into the offensive zone. Bryan Bickell did get a decent shot on goal as the first line established one of their few successful possessions, but Quick made a big save as he kicked across the crease.
With about 10:30 remaining in the game, the Blackhawks finally got back on the board thanks to an aggressive push by their top line. Jonathan Toews missed a chance off a rebound from a Seabrook shot, but Bickell was there to clean up the mess as he flipped in a backhanded shot to make it a 4-2 game.
Crawford was pulled with about three minutes remaining in the game, but the Kings were still able to largely direct traffic away from the net in the closing moments. Tanner Pearson did pick up an empty net goal to seal the game, and the tally put the Blackhawks one game away from elimination.
The Hawks will have a chance to extend their season when the teams meet in Wednesday night in Game 5. The puck will drop at 7pm Central time, and the game can be seen on NBCSN.