The Los Angeles Kings know all about the creeping inevitability that sets in when a team gets behind 0-3 in a playoff series. After all, that’s where they put every opponent they faced on the way to the Stanley Cup title last year.
With more big points from their Siberian defenseman and even more big saves from their champion goalie, Los Angeles stayed safely out of that hole in the Western Conference finals.
Slava Voynov had a goal and an assist, Jonathan Quick made 19 saves, and Los Angeles beat Chicago 3-1 in Game 3 Tuesday night, trimming the Blackhawks’ series lead to 2-1.
”This is kind of what I expected this to be when we did it last year,” captain Dustin Brown said. ”Last year, we were playing at a level few teams ever play at. This year, it’s taking that extra effort out of us, and we’re coming up with it.”
Game 4 is Thursday night in Los Angeles.
Justin Williams also scored and Dwight King added an empty-net goal in the defending NHL champions’ 15th consecutive home victory since March. The Kings never trailed while ending the top-seeded Blackhawks’ five-game postseason winning streak, but they had to survive a tense third period with Quick’s brilliance and a strong defensive effort, avoiding that nearly insurmountable three-game deficit.
”It’s not something we wanted to try and test out, so it was certainly a must-win in our situation,” Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. ”We were just able to be aggressive instead of sitting back and letting them dictate the pace this time. That’s what we have to do to compete with those guys.”
Jeff Carter had two assists in an inspired effort, despite the absence of injured linemate Mike Richards, and Voynov had his fourth multipoint game in a prolific postseason. Every time the Blackhawks mounted their speedy attack, the Kings survived with solid defense and fortunate bounces – a combination they’ve been getting all spring at Staples Center.
Although they can’t explain it, the Kings have won all eight of their home playoff games – nine straight dating to last season’s title clincher. After their 16-4 roll through last season’s playoffs, not much has been easy this year for the Kings, who haven’t scored more than two goals without an empty-netter in their last eight games.
”We have a certain way we need to play,” Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr said. ”For whatever reason, we do a heck of a good job of it at home, and not as good on the road.”
Bryan Bickell scored and Corey Crawford stopped 25 shots for the Blackhawks, who chased Quick from Game 2 and earned back-to-back home victories to open the series last weekend.
The Kings had lost five of their previous seven playoff games before getting back to friendly Staples Center and their sellout crowd. Quick also returned to Conn Smythe Trophy form in Game 3, highlighted by a dazzling late save on Bickell, while his low-scoring teammates generated just enough offense to hold off the Blackhawks, who hadn’t lost since Game 4 of the second round.
”They play a lot better at home,” Crawford said. ”They were buzzing. They were running around a little bit more than in Chicago, but we were ready for that. We knew they would come harder. We were almost there. We almost tied it.”
The Blackhawks matched their playoff low with just 20 shots, but the Presidents’ Trophy winners were one good bounce away from tying the score in the final minutes.
Brandon Saad nearly had an open net after a cross-ice pass from Viktor Stalberg with 5 minutes left, but couldn’t collect the puck. Moments later, Keith missed a near-breakaway at the Kings’ blue line when Chicago went offside – and Quick set off a frenzy in the crowd when he stopped Bickell’s fine chance late.
”We knew exactly what kind of game they were going to play, and that they would have more confidence and more energy in their own building,” Saad said. ”We just didn’t bring that same effort and same pace. There were a lot of little thing we could do better, but that comes with our preparation and being ready to play at the highest level. We know we’ve got to be better than that.”
The Kings played their second straight game without Richards, their leading postseason scorer heading into Game 3. The veteran center has an apparent concussion after a big hit from Dave Bolland in the series opener.
Richards’ absence opened a lineup spot for promising rookie Tyler Toffoli, who has three points in the last two games. The 21-year-old AHL rookie of the year got the primary assist on Voynov’s goal.
After the Kings scored just 11 goals in their previous seven games, coach Darryl Sutter shook up his lines. Slumping center Anze Kopitar was moved back to the third line, while Jarret Stoll moved up to the Kings’ nominal top line between Williams and Brown.
Between the line changes and the desperation necessary in such a situation, the Kings came out with a noticeable edge and improved passing. They took the lead just 3:21 in on a strong sequence started and finished by Williams, who forced Nick Leddy’s turnover before scoring on a pass from Voynov.
The two-time Stanley Cup winner has six goals in the playoffs – four in the past six games – after scoring just 11 in the 48-game regular season.
Los Angeles kept up the pressure in the second period, with Carter and Toffoli generating sustained pressure before Voynov beat Crawford, who was screened. Voynov’s shot was doubly hard to stop because he broke his stick on the swing, turning it into a changeup.
The Kings got a four-minute power play moments later when defenseman Duncan Keith high-sticked Carter in the face, punctuating a bad-tempered game by opening a gash on Carter’s mouth. Sutter thought Keith deserved a match penalty for the nasty play, calling it ”retaliation.”
But Los Angeles managed just one shot on that scoreless power play, and Bickell got the Blackhawks back in it with his seventh goal of the postseason in the final minute of the second period. Bickell was left untouched behind the net after Kings defensemen Drew Doughty and Robyn Regehr both lost their footing, and the pending free agent skated in front alone to beat Quick with just Chicago’s third shot of the period.
But the Blackhawks couldn’t get another past Quick, who had dominated the first two rounds with the same style that made him the Kings’ playoff MVP last year.
The Blackhawks hadn’t been at Staples Center since both clubs’ season opener Jan. 19, when Chicago spoiled the Kings’ banner-raising ceremony with a 5-2 victory.
NOTES: Williams and Chicago RW Patrick Sharp nearly fought early in the game while scuffling for position before a faceoff, but linesmen kept them apart. ”He asked me to fight,” Sharp said. ”If he asks me again, I’ll fight him any day he wants.” … D Jake Muzzin returned to the Kings’ lineup after sitting out in favor of Alec Martinez in Game 2. … Carter went to the dressing room for repairs after Keith’s high stick. Sharp went to the dressing room late in the second period after a big hit from Brown, but he returned to the bench for the third period. … Tom Cruise and Jim Belushi attended the game.