LOS ANGELES – A couple of timely goals by a fourth-line forward and a pair of stellar plays by one of Chicago’s few healthy defencemen helped the Blackhawks move into a tie with San Jose for the Western Conference lead.
Tomas Kopecky scored twice in a 3:20 span in the third period, and Antti Niemi made 17 saves for his fifth career shutout in the Blackhawks’ 3-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.
“We knew they have a good team and we focused on defence,” Kopecky said. “Everything starts with the defence.”
Despite losing one of their defencemen to an injury in each of the previous three games, the Blackhawks overcame the absence of Kim Johnsson, Brian Campbell and Brent Seabrook and outshot Los Angeles 37-17.
Chicago came in with an average of 9.5 more shots on net than its opponents, leading the league with 34.2 per game and allowing a league-low 24.7. The Kings were held to just three shots on net in the second period. They had only two against the Blackhawks in the third period Nov. 9 at Chicago.
“I think the team showed that we really wanted to win tonight,” Niemi said.
Kopecky, the right-wing on Chicago’s fourth line, had the second multigoal game of his career and helped the Blackhawks avoid losing four consecutive games for the first time this season. Troy Brouwer opened the scoring in the second period.
“We worked hard as a team, but those guys came through for us and really got us that win,” captain Jonathan Toews said.
“It was nice to see them moving the puck the way they can. They got more opportunities tonight, as far as ice time goes, and they definitely deserved it because they’ve been working hard. It’s frustrating for them when they don’t get as many chances to get on the ice as they would want, but they definitely took advantage of it tonight and made a huge difference.”
So did defenceman Jordan Hendry, who made a nice play to break up a 2-on-1 rush by the Kings after Wayne Simmonds got a return pass from Michal Handzus a few feet from the crease with about 12 minutes left in the second period.
Hendry also started the play that led to Brouwer’s goal at 11:36 of the period, forcing a turnover in the neutral zone by Kings captain Dustin Brown. The puck eventually got to Patrick Kane, who was thwarted at the right of the crease by Jonathan Quick. But Quick couldn’t control the rebound, and Brouwer jammed it home after Rob Scuderi made a desperate attempt to swipe the puck out of danger as it lay in the crease.
“Jordan chipped the puck up and allowed us to go on a 3-on-2 the other way, and that’s what caused that goal,” Toews said. “He’s been skating well and playing well, and it’s great to see the confidence he’s playing well. He’s a big part of our blue line, and one of the guys who have been stepping up. We need them to, especially with the injuries we’ve had.”
Brouwer’s 20th goal gave the Blackhawks at least five players with 20 or more in consecutive seasons since 1990-91, when they accomplished the feat for the third straight year. Kane’s 52nd assist eclipsed the career-high total he had two seasons ago, when he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.
The Kings were shut out for only the second time this season. Quick stopped 34 shots – including a breakaway 41 seconds into the third period by Patrick Sharp, who had 13 goals in just 15 previous games against Los Angeles.
Kopecky made it 2-0 at 2:48 of the third, beating Quick to the glove side with a seemingly harmless wrist shot from outside the left circle. He added his sixth of the season on a short wrist shot from the slot at 6:08, after defenceman Jack Johnson tried to clear the puck in front of the net and put it right onto Kopecky’s stick.
“I think ultimately, everyone could be better here,” Brown said. “I turned the puck over twice on one shift, and it led to a goal. That kind of set the tone for the rest of the game. I think it’s important for this team, at this time of year, to hit the reset button and get back to basics. I think we need to take a look in the mirror individually and collectively.”
NOTES: Kings longtime play-by-play man Bob Miller returned to the TV booth for the first time since March 4 after being sidelined by shingles. The Hall of Famer has missed only 21 games in his 37 seasons with the club. … Los Angeles did not have a power play opportunity for the first time since April 7, 2009, at Edmonton. They stopped all five by Chicago, including a four-minute high-sticking infraction against Justin Williams, and extended their streak to 20 in a row on the penalty kill. … The Blackhawks, coming off a 4-2 loss at Anaheim on Wednesday night, are 12-1-3 in the second game of back-to-back sets. … The Blackhawks won the season series 3-1. It was their first regulation victory at Staples Center since Oct. 25, 2003.