The Chicago Blackhawks came into Staples Center on Saturday night looking for a positive finish to their circus trip and a measure of revenge for last year’s Western Conference Final loss to the Los Angeles Kings, and they got both as they knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champions 4-1.
Things got off to a great start for the visitors as they scored just two minutes into the game to take an early lead. Bryan Bickell made a nice play along the boards to chip a puck toward Daniel Carcillo, and the gritty forward did the rest as he fired in a shot on Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick. He made the initial save, but Carcillo followed up the shot and whacked the rebound out of midair and into the net to give Chicago a 1-0 lead.
That goal seemed to embolden the Blackhawks, and they continued pressing forward with an aggressive offensive attack. The second line especially shone brightly during the ensuing minutes, with Kris Versteeg nearly scoring on a deflection in front and Patrick Kane ringing a shot off the crossbar on back-to-back possessions.
The Kings did get a pair of power plays later in the first period, but they couldn’t convert on either opportunity. Anze Kopitar and Jake Muzzin each picked up shots on goal during the man-advantage, but Corey Crawford was up to the task as he kept his shutout intact.
A few minutes after the second power play expired, the Blackhawks once again surged forward on offense and added their second goal of the evening. Quick came out of the net to play the puck, and he tried to push a pass to Matt Greene. Versteeg ended up picking off the pass, and he pushed the puck along to Brad Richards. The veteran forward somehow muscled a shot between Quick and the near post, and with two minutes left in the period the Hawks had a 2-0 lead to their credit.
The Blackhawks opened the second period with a couple of good chances from David Rundblad, but the Kings responded well to the pressure as they narrowed the gap to one goal. Bickell made a careless pass and turned the puck over to Jarret Stoll, and it eventually worked its way around to Jake Muzzin. The defenseman fired in a shot towards the net, and Jordan Nolan got a piece of it before it evaded Crawford and made it a 2-1 game.
Undaunted, the Blackhawks got the momentum back quickly, and they scored a gorgeous goal just a few minutes later. Kane brought the puck into the offensive zone, but he quickly passed it back to Versteeg at the blue line. The forward found Michal Rozsival, who pinched in from the blue line and forced Quick to come out of his crease to challenge the shot. Rozsival then feathered a perfect pass to Richards, who tapped in the easy goal and gave Chicago a 3-1 lead.
Both teams exchanged good scoring chances as the second period wound down, but neither could convert. Drew Doughty had a power play shot from the point that Crawford had to track through traffic, but he blocked it away and also knocked a rebound chance aside. Brandon Saad got a good chance at the other end of the rink, but his shot was stopped and Jonathan Toews was prevented from scoring on the rebound as the Hawks kept their two-goal advantage through two periods.
The Kings got a good possession early in the third period, but it would ultimately prove to be their last and best chance to get back in the game. Crawford once again stood tall in the face of a stern test from Tanner Pearson and Jeff Carter, making some key stops to keep his team ahead.
Ultimately, the Blackhawks were able to add an empty net tally late in the game to seal the victory. Niklas Hjalmarsson fed a puck to Marian Hossa along the boards, and the Hawks’ forward took a hit to make a play as he worked a pass to Saad. He fired in a shot from center ice that rolled into the cage, and the goal secured the Hawks’ ninth and tenth points of their circus trip.
The Blackhawks will have a few days off to recuperate after the trip, but they will have to be ready to go on Wednesday as they welcome the St. Louis Blues to the United Center.