LOS ANGELES — It’s becoming increasingly difficult for the Los Angeles Kings to keep calling themselves the underdogs in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Kings took advantage of every advantage they had against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday at Staples Center, coming back home for a 4-3 win in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals and a 2-1 lead in the series.
In one of the most entertaining games of the entire postseason, it was almost unfortunate that one team had to lose. But the Blackhawks never quite matched the Kings in intensity and nearly collapsed, once again, after giving up a lead. L.A. has the edge, now it’s about maintaining it.
"I think both teams have shown that they are able to battle adversity," said Kings’ captain Dustin Brown. "This is a team that was down last year and found a way to come back. What we wanted tonight — and got – was the lead in the series."
A combination of the Kings’ hot second line and special teams helped erase a one-goal deficit in less than a minute and build momentum to go up 4-2.
The second line was responsible for two goals and combined for five points with Jeff Carter credited with three. Carter has now had points in the last three games and scored seven in just the last two while Tyler Toffoli has scored in all three games of the series.
"They’ve been our hottest line probably dating back to the end of Anaheim series," Brown said. "It’s not a shock to see Carts score goals like he does but those other two guys have come up and really stepped up their game and are playing at an elite level."
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews scored twice for the Blackhawks, with both goals coming in the first period. Arguably the Blackhawks’ best period, Toews ran right over Justin Williams in the neutral zone, knocking the puck loose and coming down to score on the breakaway just over five minutes in.
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Slava Voynov responded with a huge power play slap shot less than a minute later to tie, but Toews once again was able to score late in the first, knocking in a loose puck.
Although the score wasn’t, shots on goal were even between the two teams after the first period. That would be last period where anything was even.
After Jeff Carter tied the game in the second came Toffili’s goal, a highlight reel in and of itself, which effectively killed any remaining momentum the Blackhawks may have had.
"You see trends. They got a fortunate bounce last game late in the second, one in the second right off the bat to make it 2-2," said Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville. "Third goal, haven’t seen many goals given up our team in that situation at all, so a guy makes a good play and splits our D… should’ve been on that puck."
The Kings out-shot the Blackhawks 18-7 in the third period and bested them at their own penalty kill game, killing off all four minors and nearly scoring twice on the power play as Drew Doughty’s goal came right as a penalty expired with a man barely out of the box.
While Darryl Sutter still likes to remind everyone that the Kings finished behind their three playoff opponents in the regular season, the playoffs are truly the second season for a reason. The team that typically survived one-goal games in the regular season has scored a league-leading 56 in the postseason.
There’s no real science to it, but the Kings playoff aura has yet to diminish.
"We’re here for a reason. We’re not here to win a few games. Our ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup," Doughty said. "Obviously [we’ve] got a lot of obstacles before that can happen. This is our toughest one yet, Chicago is a good team. We know they’re not going to go away easy. We’re only up 2-1, [there’s] a lot of work left to do.