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.
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.
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.
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.