NHL takeaways: L.A. looking like Kings of the West with another comeback win
MAY 25, 2014 12:16a ET
The Los Angeles Kings' fans have to be wondering: How come we don't get this kind of bang for our buck in the regular season? The Kings haven't managed to secure home-ice advantage in each of the past three seasons, yet they have advanced to the Western Conference Final in all of those seasons.
And now they have the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks on the ropes after Saturday's second straight come-from-behind effort in a 4-3 win at Staples Center.
In 2012, L.A. won the franchise's first Stanley Cup as a No. 8 seed. Last year, the Kings climbed to No. 5, and this year they had the conference's sixth-best record and the fewest goals scored of any of the West's eight playoff teams.
It hasn't mattered. L.A. is leading the NHL playoffs with 3.29 goals per game, the power play (24.6 percent) is tops among the four teams still standing and the Kings have the top three point-producers in this postseason in Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik.
You can try floating that old belief that L.A.'s hard-hitting defensive style is built for the playoffs, but that doesn't exactly wash with what we're seeing. The Kings are big, but the Kings also look fast up front, and they haven't been afraid to take risks on the rush in the playoffs.
The combination of Marian Gaborik's addition and the growth of young players Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson gives L.A. as deep a forward group as any other NHL team and just may signal its arrival among the most skilled teams in the league.
"It's a 2-1 series against the defending Stanley Cup champs, so I don't think there's such a thing as taking control," captain Dustin Brown cautioned.
Maybe, but in the last four-plus periods, L.A. sure looked like the better team.
PLAY OF THE DAY
Tyler Toffoli's breakaway: With another fruitless Chicago power play having just expired, Toffoli blew through a hole in the Blackhawks defense and deked goalie Corey Crawford into a butterfly before slipping the puck under Crawford's left pad for a 3-2 lead.
Patrick Kane is denied: With Chicago leading 2-1 early in the second period, Blackhawks center Michal Handzus found Kane streaking up the slot all alone. Goalie Jonathan Quick came out to challenge Kane and stopped both his initial shot and a rebound. Kane has no points in this series.
1. C Jeff Carter, Los Angeles: Carter had a goal and two assists and has eight points in the three games of this series. Carter has 22 goals since the start of the 2012 playoffs. That's five more than any other player. Chicago's Bryan Bickell is second with 17.
2. D Drew Doughty, Los Angeles: Doughty had a goal, an assist, five blocked shots and a pair of huge defensive plays on Chicago rushes that don't show up in the box score.
3. C Jonathan Toews, Chicago: The captain tried to will his team to victory with a shorthanded goal and an even-strength goal in the first period, but he got no help until Patrick Sharp scored a meaningless goal with 4.2 seconds left in regulation.
Los Angeles 4, Chicago 3
Series: Los Angeles leads 2-1.
Key stat: Chicago's power play is 1 for 21 on the road this postseason.
Key player: LW Tanner Pearson, Los Angeles. The third guy on L.A.'s best line in this series was a workhorse on Saturday. He won a puck battle behind the net to feed center Jeff Carter in front for the game-tying goal. Pearson has four assists in this series.
What we learned: L.A. is exploiting a long-present weakness of the Blackhawks -- their lack of a second-line center. The Kings' second line of center Jeff Carter and wings Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson has 15 points in the three games of this series, and that is the main reason that L.A. has 10 goals in the last two games.
The salary cap had made it difficult for Chicago to fill the need for a No. 2 center, but Michal Handzus looks old and slow (he is both), and now that the Hawks' penalty-killing unit has gone sour -- as it was for much of the regular season -- Handzus really isn't contributing anything at all. Coach Joel Quenneville hinted at some possible line changes, and he replaced Handzus with Ben Smith between Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, but that isn't a solution either. The Blackhawks really don't have that center on their roster, but moving Andrew Shaw up is one possibility.
We're loath to write off the Blackhawks just yet. They did rally from a 2-0 hole against St. Louis, and they have won two of the last four Stanley Cups, but L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick is outplaying Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, the Hawks' forward depth is every bit the question mark it looked before the season began and if the penalty-killing unit continues to revert to regular-season form, Chicago is in big trouble.
Oh, and that aforementioned road power play is officially the worst in the postseason at 4.8 percent efficiency. No team has ever played seven-game series in the first two rounds and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, but the Kings (and maybe the Rangers) are poised to erase that.
Next game: Monday at Los Angeles, 9 p.m. ET
Final thought: Rangers center Derek Stepan had surgery Friday to repair a broken jaw, which was sustained in the first period of Game 3 on Thursday on an illegal check from Montreal Canadiens forward Brandon Prust. Prust earned a two-game suspension, but the Rangers may have suffered a greater loss. If Stepan is indeed out -- and Canadiens center Danny Briere isn't so sure he will be -- the Rangers could enter Game 4 without their top center along with agitator Daniel Carcillo, who was suspended 10 games for elbowing a linesman as he tried to escape the official's grasp to enter a fray involving Prust. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was incensed that his team got the short end of the exchange, but nothing excuses Carcillo's actions. He knows the rules. The only good news for New York is that it has a 2-1 lead and center Derick Brassard should return after missing the past two games due to injury.
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