Western Conference Finals: Game 4 Recap
The Los Angeles Kings emerged victorious yet again on Monday night, defeating the Chicago Blackhawks for the third time in a row this series in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final. The Kings outscored Chicago 5-2 and currently lead all teams this postseason in goals scored.
The Blackhawks are typically used to coming back from a deficit during a playoff series. In four of their last six series, the Hawks trailed their opponent after three games played.
Chicago did not, however, play in the first period as though history might repeat itself. Two early power play opportunities went to waste as the Hawks struggled to keep the puck in their offensive zone, a trend that has haunted the team recently. Their second advantage quickly soured as Marian Hossa was called for goalie interference on Jonathan Quick, giving the Kings their first power play and their eventual first goal of the game by Jake Muzzin. Jeff Carter screened Corey Crawford, blocking his line of sight and allowing his teammate to score.
The Kings’ second goal of the night came nearly two minutes later from a Marian Gaborik deflection off of Anze Kopitar’s shot, Gaborik’s league-leading 10th goal of the playoffs. By that point in the game, LA had only shot four times and scored on two of them, yet Crawford could not be blamed for the allowed goals. In the case of Gaborik’s goal, Duncan Keith turned the puck over to Kopitar in his own zone, giving the Kings the perfect opportunity to put the game further out of reach for the Hawks.
Patrick Sharp, the Blackhawks’ leading goal scorer in the regular season, has continued to struggle throughout this series in particular. Sharp took a careless penalty on Jarret Stoll, a roughing call, which ultimately gave the Kings their third goal of the night, their second on a power play. Dustin Brown broke a five game pointless streak to put his team even further up, his seventh point of the postseason.
Chicago started the second period on a negative note: a crosschecking penalty against an overly frustrated Andrew Shaw, the fifth offensive zone penalty of the night between the two teams. The Hawks killed their first penalty of the game, but gave the patient Kings power play unit a few opportunities and certainly a lot of time with the puck.
The Kings’ defense continued to propel the team forward as it did in Game 3, with Drew Doughty leading the effort. Doughty’s defensive prowess shut down the Hawks’ top players early in the game including Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but his offensive talent is just as impressive. Doughty’s shot on net over halfway through the period slipped past Crawford, putting the Kings up 4-0.
Despite what seemed like a defensive breakdown by the Blackhawks leading up until Doughty’s goal, Brandon Saad’s grueling work ethic shined through the incredibly dark cloud looming over his teammates by scoring Chicago’s first point of the game. Chicago closed out the period with momentum, peppering Quick with shots just before Andrew Shaw and Doughty were called for holding and roughing, respectively.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, it took them 40 minutes to shake the sluggish play that hindered their potential throughout the first two periods. The Hawks’ newfound offensive energy resulted in a goal from Bryan Bickell, the outcome of tons of team pressure in front of the LA net. Despite the increased amount of time playing in their own zone, the Kings held down the fort defensively following the Bickell goal. One empty netter later, and the Kings closed out the game with a 5-2 win.
In his pregame interview, Brandon Saad praised the depth of his team’s roster and expressed his confidence in some of the recently lesser-performing Blackhawks (Kane and Sharp, though not explicitly stated). Saad’s faith is encouraging, but with each passing game, the once ample pool that characterized the Chicago team has gradually become shallow.
There are too many quiet Hawks that have contributed very little this series. Last postseason, third-liners like Andrew Shaw became heroes of the playoffs, scoring big goals to allow Chicago to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
This time around, the Kings seem to be in that position. Players that were once scratched repeatedly in the regular season, like Muzzin and Alec Martinez, are contributing both defensively and offensively. Doughty, a big time player in the regular season, has brought his usual drive to the postseason and leads all defensemen in points with 14 total.
Chicago is currently struggling to find the chemistry they had last season. Los Angeles, however, is playing with the missing spark that the Hawks so desperately need. If the previous two series are any indication of the Kings’ grit, they won’t be giving up their groove any time soon.
The Blackhawks must win three in a row in order to emerge as the Western Conference Champions. They will fight to stay alive when they take on the Kings at the United Center in Game 5 this Wednesday at 8:00 PM EST.