EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Although Chicago and Los Angeles have won the last two Stanley Cup titles, Matt Greene and his fellow Kings realize the Blackhawks have been superior whenever the two championship teams were on the ice together recently.
Chicago’s recent mastery of the Kings completely came apart in one crazy period, and the Blackhawks are headed to the West Coast to figure out how to get it back.
When the teams return Saturday night for Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, the Kings hope to build on their five-goal third period in a 6-2 victory on Wednesday night, evening the series in dramatic fashion.
Until Game 2, Chicago had beaten the Kings six straight times and in nine of the clubs’ last 10 meetings dating back to last season’s conference finals. The Blackhawks had been faster and more offensively creative than the Kings, but it all went away in a barrage of goals that set a distinctly different tone for Game 3.
“It’s been a series that’s gone in their favour for the last couple of years now,” Greene said Thursday at the Kings’ training complex. “We’ve got to do our best to change that. If we could put a finger on it, we would. But it’s up to us to figure it out and to keep it going and get some more wins. … I don’t think they have a mental edge on us, no. You’ve just got to go out and play.”
Both teams essentially took Thursday off, gathering only for travel or a team meeting. While the Kings downplayed the importance of momentum from their win, the Blackhawks had an extra day to absorb the shock of their second four-goal defeat in the last six playoff games.
“I woke up this morning way more angry than I exited the game,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Thursday before the team flew to the West Coast. “Normally it’s the other way around. … A game like that is a game that should get your attention, and I think that’s where we’re at.”
Quenneville felt the loss was a significant setback for the Blackhawks only because of how it occurred. The two-time champion coach couldn’t recall such an abrupt reversal of momentum against Chicago in any game this season.
Quenneville thought his team essentially played a perfect game for the first 38 minutes, taking a 2-0 lead before it all fell apart with Los Angeles’ first goal. The Blackhawks aren’t a team that falls apart, but the Kings have a way of making opponents do things they never imagined under playoff pressure.
“I think it was probably a little bit of a shock to us all,” Chicago defenceman Nick Leddy said. “But that’s how playoffs are.”
The Kings feel it wasn’t just momentum that gave them home-ice advantage in this series. Los Angeles had been making strides against the defending champions for months, and coach Darryl Sutter thought his team played much better in its series-opening defeat than its victory.
“I don’t think it was momentum,” Sutter said. “It was more once we were down two (goals), I think it was our ability—and we’re good at that—our ability to stay with it and stick with the game.”
That game is showing a few unexpected facets lately.
The Kings are now the highest-scoring team in the Stanley Cup playoffs with 3.25 goals per game, a shocking number for a defence-first team that struggled mightily to score for much of the regular season.
But the Kings’ success in Game 2 was due to its usual strengths on defence. Los Angeles’ defence on Chicago’s top scorers was uniformly solid. Anze Kopitar shadowed Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who didn’t record a shot, while Patrick Kane failed to score a point for the second straight game.
The Kings excelled on special teams, killing a two-man Chicago advantage and scoring the tying and go-ahead goals on their own power plays. Los Angeles also dominated the faceoff circle, following up its impressive work late in the second round against Anaheim.
“They’re huge momentum-swingers every time,” Greene said. “A good (penalty-kill) can do wonders for you in terms of momentum, and a good power play. The coaches do a good job emphasizing you don’t need to score on the power play. You just need to make sure you build momentum and get a good two minutes going in their zone. Last night, everything was clicking. Those were twohuge power-play goals for us there. They really turned around the game in our favour.”
Bruising forward Andrew Shaw is expected to be available to the Blackhawks for Game 3 after missing Wednesday’s game with a lower-body injury, his seventh straight game out of the lineup.
The Kings aren’t likely to see defenceman Robyn Regehr, whose knee injury has kept him out for eight games.