CHICAGO — The Los Angeles Kings have been here before. Down 3-0 and down 3-2 in their last two postseason series, they came back each time.
Now, the Kings find themselves in a 1-0 series deficit after dropping the opening game of the Western Conference Finals to the Blackhawks, 3-1, Sunday afternoon at the United Center in Chicago.
Down, yes. But out? Far from it.
"It’s Game 1. You’ve got to look at tape and make adjustments throughout a series," said Kings’ center Mike Richards. "This is going to be no different. It’s 1-0 them, and we know that we can play better. We’re just going to have to play better next game and try to bear down on our chances."
There was no sense that the dressing room was in a dire state. The Kings out-shot the Blackhawks 26-20 and tied it 1-1 in the second when it looked as though the momentum was about to swing in Chicago’s direction.
But it took some time for them to find their legs after making such a quick turnaround from Game 7 of the semifinals. Kings faced a Chicago team that had plenty of rest, and it showed. The Kings got into town less than 24 hours after eliminating the Ducks in Anaheim, and the puck dropped less than 48 hours later.
They skated tired in the first period, allowing that all-important first goal. In seven of their eight postseason wins, the Kings have scored first with Game 7 in San Jose being the only exception. They have yet to win a playoff game when trailing 1-0.
"It took us a little bit to get into the game," said Kings’ center Mike Richards. "I think we were a little bit sloppy in the first, everybody, and then we started to get going a bit. We just made some mistakes and they capitalized on them, and we didn’t capitalize on our chances."
"Only time I really noticed it quite honest was early in the game," said Kings’ head coach Darryl Sutter. "They were going to come out with some energy, they did two or three times in the first where we got caught at the end of shifts. That’s where it showed up. Other than that, I don’t think it really hurt us that much."
They came out with a renewed sense of intensity in the second and capitalized on the biggest opportunity they had.
Just 3:22 into the second period, Jonathan Toews scored on a controversial goal that was then taken off the board after an official review. Toews scored as he fell over goaltender Jonathan Quick and according to the NHL Situation Room, it was determined that Toews made incidental contact with Quick before the puck crossed the goal line.
Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville lost it. Livid from behind the bench, Quenneville argued that goaltender interference is not reviewable.
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Exactly 73 seconds later, the Kings took that favor and returned it as Tyler Toffoli drove to net to finish off a Tanner Pearson feed off the boards to tie the game.
"Good neutral zone play," Toffoli said. "(Jeff Carter) made a nice pass to (Pearson) and he drove wide. I was open there and just chipped it over his glove."
But the Blackhawks, still fired up from Toews’ no-goal, fired right back when Keith Duncan launched a rocket from the point and redirected it off of Trevor Lewis. Toews would later score on a 3-on-1 rush in the third to put the game away.
"We turned a few pucks over," Mitchell said. "They’re a great rush team and they make you pay. They did that today. I think we have to clean that up and don’t make those turnovers in the neutral zone and don’t allow those rush chances, which they’re great at."
The consensus from the Kings is that they just came out a little flat. There was no one lamenting the failures of the team. It was simply too tight of a game for that.
But the Kings’ biggest playoff weapon is their ability to make the necessary adjustments as the series wears on.
"I think we played fine. But as Darryl would say, ‘OK is not OK,’" said Kings’ defenseman Willie Mitchell. "It’s a real good hockey club over there, so you have to play a great game to beat them. We’ll look to regroup and do a better job."