You won’t see many stranger games than Los Angeles’ 6-2 win on Wednesday in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final in Chicago. For nearly two periods, the Blackhawks toyed with L.A. like an ex-pro among beer-league players. At last, Chicago was playing that dominant game that its fans had been waiting for the entire postseason.
The Blackhawks controlled possession, they were far quicker than the Kings and for long stretches it seemed like L.A. would never touch the puck.
But as we have learned in this postseason, dominance and possession often don’t translate into wins. Chicago had two golden chances late in the second to blow open the game with a 2-0 lead already in hand, but Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was there to shut the door both times.
And when the door finally opened on Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, it opened wide. Crawford had allowed just nine goals in seven previous home playoff games. By the time the Kings has chased him for an extra attacker, he had given up five goals on 30 shots to fall from his perch as NHL save percentage and goals against leader.
Aside from Tyler Toffoli’s insurance goal to make it 4-2, there weren’t any unstoppable ones. The guess here is that Crawford and the Blackhawks will dust themselves off from this absolute egg that was bound to come on home ice. But the home aura for the Hawks is gone and the Kings offense is suddenly looking like the elite one in this series.
PLAY OF THE DAY
Too Quick: With Chicago already leading 2-0 and the first strains of Sweet Georgia Brown starting, Chicago got a 2-on-1 past the midpoint of the second period. Wing Kris Versteeg fed defenseman Brent Seabrook on the doorstep and Seabrook thought he had an open net, but Quick slid across the crease and got his left pad on the puck to keep L.A. in the game. Justin Williams then scored with 1:46 left in the period to start the Kings’ rally.
The stoppage that wasn’t: With the Kings up 3-2 and Chicago reeling, Crawford deflected a shot up in the air and behind the net on a save. While most of the Blackhawks then stopped, believing the puck hit off the netting before falling to the ice, the Kings did not. The whistle never blew, L.A. forward Tanner Pearson centered a pass to Toffoli in the slot and Toffoli buried it to give the Kings that 4-2 lead and bury the Hawks.
1. Jonathan Quick, G, Los Angeles: While the rest of his team was being toyed with through nearly two full periods, Quick kept the Kings in striking distance, robbing Seabrook and Patrick Kane on high-percentage scoring chances.
2. Jeff Carter, C, Los Angeles: A hat trick and an assist for Carter, who is having quite a postseason with seven goals and 16 points. The latter ties him with teammate Marian Gaborik for second in the league — behind fellow teammate Anze Kopitar.
3. Jake Muzzin, D, Los Angeles: A goal and four blocks for Muzzin, who was steadier than his partner, Drew Doughty, on Wednesday.
Los Angeles 6, Chicago 2
Series: Tied, 1-1.
Key stat: The Blackhawks had not lost at the United Center through their first seven playoff games this postseason.
Key player: Quick. Without a couple of his 23 saves, the Kings would never have had a chance to rally in this one.
What we learned: This is going to be a long series. Chicago was about 22 minutes away from putting a stranglehold on the Kings when everything suddenly shifted in the other direction. Los Angeles’ power play, which has been consistent in this postseason, finally found a way to crack Chicago’s top-ranked penalty-killing unit with two goals on four chances. The key (isn’t it always?) was getting pucks to the net. Instead of a slapshot, Doughty threw a wrister at the net and Carter deflected it in for his first goal of the game to make it 2-2 only 97 seconds into the third. Muzzin made it 3-2 after waiting for a lane and blowing his power-play shot past Crawford, who was still upright trying to see the puck around traffic.
Remember that anemic L.A. offense that finished in the bottom third of the league in the regular season? Neither do we. L.A. leads the postseason with 3.25 goals per game. Either the Kings are due for a major regression or Gaborik’s insertion into the lineup is making all the difference in the world. L.A. has the top three points-producers in the playoffs (Kopitar, Gaborik and Carter) and three of the top eight goal scorers (Gaborik, Carter and Justin Williams, whose six goals are tied with four others for fourth). On the flip side, Chicago got nothing from its top forwards (Wednesday’s goals came from defenseman Nick Leddy and forward Ben Smith). The teams will get 72 hours to rest and adjust for Game 3, which will have an added wrinkle with the expected return of gritty Chicago forward Andrew Shaw. The Kings have been decidedly mediocre at home in the playoffs, going 3-3 at Staples Center.
Next game: Game 3, Saturday at Los Angeles, 8 p.m. ET
Final thought: Montreal’s season hangs in the balance when it faces the New York Rangers on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers already lead the series 2-0 and Canadiens goalie Carey price isn’t walking through that locker room door any time during this series. The Canadiens will start rookie Dustin Tokarski in goal again for Game 3 — which pretty much signals they have zero confidence in Peter Budaj, who will likely become an unrestricted free agent after this season. “He played well for us the last game and he gave us a chance to win," Canadiens forward Daniel Briere told reporters. “At the other end, they had a goalie that was even better and sometimes that’s going to happen."