It didn’t sound easy. 15 wins at home in the playoffs is something remarkable. But if the Chicago Blackhawks wanted to get one step closer to the Stanley Cup Final, they would have to hand the Los Angeles Kings their first playoff loss at the Staples Center.
The first started solidly for the Blackhawks. Things got off to a great start when Jonathan Toews was sprung onto a breakaway, where he just slipped a backhand wide of the goal. Of course, the Kings would score on the very next rush, where a terrible pinch by Brookbank led to a scramble in front, and Slava Voynov‘s sixth playoff goal. The tides turned quickly after that, and the Kings dominated the flow for quite some time. That all changed when Bryan Bickell shot a wrister from 48 feet out, that dipped and beat Jonathan Quick below the glove. A Crawford-esque blunder put the Hawks back in it, and tied at 1 was where they would stay until the buzzer.
The second period started identically to the first. It looked even for both teams, until Corey Crawford mis-handled a loose puck, and Dustin Penner had a gimme. All of a sudden, the Kings were up 2-1. They continued to control momentum, but a Matt Green penalty gave the Hawks some life. There were a few shots, but no real action, until Marian Hossa gave the puck right to Anze Kopitar, where he made a terrible play, and knocked the puck over the glass. The Blackhawks had 54 seconds of 5-on-3 action. A dream come true? Not so much. No shots were recorded on the advantage, and the Kings killed off both penalties. The Blackhawks were frustrated until 1:30 left in the frame, where a Hjalmarsson shot was tipped by Bickell, and poked into the net by none other than Patrick Kane. #88 finally showed up on the score-sheet, and the Blackhawks had their mojo back. Less than 30 seconds later, Kane was interfered by Robyn Regehr, and he looked shaken, as the Kings defenseman headed to the sin bin. The Blackhawks finished off the second on the powerplay, but it would stay knotted at 2 apiece. The second frame showed some physicality as well, something that had been missing in the first.
The third time was the charm for the Blackhawks, and they got off to a brilliant start. No action would prevail on the remainder of the powerplay, but Marian Hossa sure changed that shortly after. After a great 2-on-1 pass from Michal Handzus, Hossa ripped a bullet past Quick, and it gave the Hawks the first lead of the game. The Kings looked more like Princesses following that goal, and Chicago had their way with them for quite some time. Regehr had a terrible giveaway to Bryan Bickell, but Quick bailed him out with a big save at a key time. Quick looked calm after the tally, and made a number of solid saves including a two-pad stack on Patrick Kane. Shortly after the go-ahead-goal, Dustin Penner delivered a brutal forearm shiver to the head of Dave Bolland. No call was made on the play, but immediate reaction from fans and analysts alike was that Brendan Shannahan would take a look at the play. After the Kings pushed back, the Blackhawks clogged up the neutral zone, and sacrificed the body to block shots and keep the Kings to only 2 third period shots. Time passed, and the Blackhawks took valuable ticks off the clock. Michael Frolik, the Hawks best penalty killer, took a high-sticking penalty with five minutes to go, and so began the biggest Blackhawks kill of the year, with their center in the box and defenseman Duncan Keith in a suit. They killed it off, and any remaining Kings offense, and the Blackhawks took Game Four.
It wasn’t the best way to do it, but it all looks the same now. Thanks to some great defensive play, and a few good bounces, the Blackhawks get to go back to the Madhouse leading the defending Cup champions 3-1. The Blackhawks can’t be satisfied with this, and the Kings will look to do what the Blackhawks did just a few weeks ago. The Hawks need to be fired up for Game Five on Saturday night, and they will advance to the biggest stage in hockey.
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