Blackhawks Buzz: May 26, 2014 at Los Angeles Kings - Game 4
The Blackhawks dropped a 4-3 decision in Game 3 in Los Angeles and now trail the Kings 2-1 in the Western Conference Final. If Chicago wants to regain home-ice advantage, they'll need to claim a timely road win on Monday. Although the Kings have managed just a 4-3 record at Staples Center during the 2014 playoffs, they have grown stronger as the playoffs have progressed, causing the Blackhawks problems throughout the lineup. Chicago has let first-period leads slip away in both of their losses to L.A., so maintaining early energy will be key, and while the team's shot totals has increased from game to game, they'll need to put Jonathan Quick and the Kings defense under more pressure in order to return with a 2-2 series split.
Among the areas marked for improvement by the Blackhawks are their special teams units. The power play went 0-for-4 on Saturday, managing just three shots on goal in 8 minutes with the man advantage. Away from the United Center, Chicago has converted just once despite earning 21 chances for a league-worst 4.8 percentage. On the other end of the ice, the Kings scored a power-play tally for the second consecutive game, dropping the Blackhawks' penalty-kill percentage from 91.7 to 87.3 over the last two tilts. Defenseman Duncan Keith noted after Game 3 the importance of staying out of the box, especially against L.A.'s dangerous PP units: "The story of the game again is us taking too many penalties... If you have to take a penalty, you take it if they're going to score. But we have to stay out of the box."
Although the Blackhawks have kept L.A.'s top line of Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown quiet over the first three games of the series (just one assist combined), their second line has exploded offensively, leading to headaches for head coach Joel Quenneville as he seeks the most favorable matchups. Jeff Carter collected four points—including a hat trick—in Game 2, and has eight points (4G, 4A) in three games this series; his rookie linemates Tanner Pearson (4A in three games) and Tyler Toffoli (3G, one in each game vs. Chicago) have used their speed and forechecking abilities to pin the Blackhawks in their own zone. Whether it's utilizing a traditional checking line or switching up defensive tactics, one of Quenneville's top priorities entering Game 4 is limiting the Carter line's chances.
Although Chicago's offense was eventually stymied by the Kings defense, the first line made a definite impression, combining for eight of the Blackhawks' 27 shots in Game 3. Jonathan Toews netted his first shorthanded goal of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs just over 5 minutes into the contest, then added another tally later in the period to give his team a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes. The captain's eight goals mark a playoff career high, while his 77 career postseason points share seventh with Jeremy Roenick in franchise history.
Described as "our Nick Lidstrom" by Kopitar a few days ago, it's undeniable that defenseman Drew Doughty has been the Kings' engine throughout the playoffs. The second-overall pick in 2008 posted the game-winning goal and an assist in Game 3 while playing a game-high 28:32; he also racked up four shots on goal, two hits and a team-high five blocked shots. A veritable threat in all game situations, Doughty has led the Kings from the blue line all series, and it's up to Chicago's forecheck to pin him in his own zone.
Chicago has been in this position before, down 2-1 in a series while awaiting Game 4 on the road. The last time they faced this situation? Last year's Stanley Cup Final against Boston. The Blackhawks did not panic then, and should not be expected to panic now, even against a Los Angeles team that is firing on all cylinders, led by the Carter-Toffoli-Pearson line up top and Drew Doughty from the back end. While Toews has been a force for Chicago, the team needs to see production from their other forward lines, and tacking on a power-play goal would provide a boost of confidence for a struggling unit. Coach Quenneville could elect to switch up some of his line matchups in order to counter the Kings' depth, which has been the difference in this series so far.