Five keys as Kings return home vs. Blackhawks

Tuesday, 06.04.2013 / 10:23 AM
Corey Masisak  - NHL.com staff writer

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings have seen this script before after losing the first two games to the St. Louis Blues in the opening round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After dropping the first two contests of the Western Conference Final at United Center to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Kings will try to duplicate what they accomplished in the quarterfinals. One big difference, obviously, is this is the Presidents' Trophy-winning Blackhawks, who have now won five games in a row after being pushed to the brink of elimination by the Detroit Red Wings.

Another difference is Game 2 was a wobble for goaltender Jonathan Quick. The Kings had not yielded more than two goals in a loss this postseason, but Blackhawks touched up Quick for four goals in a little more than 30 minutes before he was removed for Jonathan Bernier.

The Kings had an incredible killer instinct in the 2012 playoffs, winning Game 3 to take a 3-0 series lead four times. Now, they will try to prevent it for a second time in three rounds.

Here are five keys to watch for in Game 3 on Tuesday night at Staples Center:

1. A king-sized siege?

One of the biggest problems for the Los Angeles Kings in the first two games of this series was the inability to sustain pressure in the offensive zone. Los Angeles wants to put the puck in deep and lean on teams with its size and forechecking, but the Blackhawks have done a tremendous job of moving the puck out of danger.

Not only would more time in the offensive zone help the Kings generate more offense, but it could alleviate some of the pressure at the other end of the ice. There was a lot of talk from the Kings about puck management before Game 2, and that will likely be a focus again on Tuesday night.

"Give them credit, they're a good checking team," Kings forward Justin Williams said. "They check you and try to get you frustrated. In turn, that's what we do. But they've been more successful at it than we have."

2. Centers of attention

If there was one area where Los Angeles had an advantage on paper before the series, it was at center. Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jarrett Stoll are one of the top trios in the League, and the Blackhawks just don't have that level at the position.

Or so people might have thought. Michal Handzus has filled the role of No. 2 center behind Jonathan Toews quite well in the past five games, and Andrew Shaw has been an impact player during the winning streak.

Injuries are part of the problem for the Kings. Richards did not play in Game 2 and could miss more time because of an upper-body injury after Chicago's No. 4 center, Dave Bolland, hit him up high near the end of Game 1. Stoll missed much of the second round after San Jose's Raffi Torres knocked him out with an illegal hit, and he has not performed like what is expected of him in this series since returning.

3. Killing time

The Los Angeles Kings did score on Chicago's vaunted penalty killers in Game 2, but it came in the final moments with the outcome no longer in doubt. Chicago's work on the PK continues to be one of the pillars of the Blackhawks' success, and they've erased 45 of 47 power-play opportunities in the postseason.

If the Kings continue to struggle with maintaining the puck in the offensive zone at even strength, they can't afford to not break through on the power play. It isn't just that Chicago is killing off penalties, the Blackhawks are erasing them without yielding many, if any, quality chances. Whether it is blocking shots, getting saves from Corey Crawford or just not letting the opposing team set up, they are the complete package at this point.

"I think we have to make sure we take reasonable penalties," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "We took a few extra last night we don't like. Discipline is always the key. The first priority is that we start, when talking about penalty killing, the type of penalties we're taking. Let's make sure we don't put them there unnecessarily."

4. Quick comeback

How does the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner respond after being pulled from a playoff game for the first time since the first round in 2010? Considering the track record, probably quite well. He's a big reason the Kings are undefeated at home in the 2013 playoffs, and unless there is a dramatic shift, Los Angeles is going to need him to steal games for it in this series.

A strong start from Quick could help get the rest of the Kings rolling, because they've been outplayed by the Blackhawks to this point.

"There's a lot of sayings out there," Quick said Monday night when asked about a series not really starting until the home team loses. "They don't mean anything. I don't know. All I know is we're going home. We've got to do our job at home. That's what we're going to do, try to cut this half on Tuesday and go from there."

5. Quick turnaround

These two teams will meet for the third time in four days on Tuesday. Is that an advantage for the Blackhawks, because the Kings might have more notable guys either injured (Richards) or still recovering from them (Stoll)? Probably not -- at this point in the postseason, every team has a few guys playing through minor dings, and maybe even more serious ones.

The Blackhawks will be trying to ride the good vibes from their current run of form, while the Kings will want to slow them down and get back into the series. Los Angeles is going to try and rally at Staples Center, where the Kings have not lost in this postseason and have won 14 straight dating back to the regular season.

Los Angeles is going to need something -- an early goal, a fortunate bounce, a big play from a star player -- to change the tenor of this series. The Blackhawks will be looking for a knockout punch.

"It's a lot different playing away from the United Center," Chicago forward Patrick Sharp said. "I feel like we've been solid on the road the last couple years in the playoffs. The team gets home for that first game, the crowd's into it, kind of gives that extra push. We expect L.A. to be good at home. Obviously their record speaks for itself. It's going to be a tough game for us to go in and battle them, battle the elements. But it's something we're looking forward to."

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