May 24, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings center Mike Richards (10) battles for the puck with Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) during the third period in game three of the Western Conference Final of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
This series is far from over, but if the Chicago Blackhawks want to have their best chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals, they will have to pull out a win in Game 4. The Los Angeles Kings are charging hard and are looking to bury the Blackhawks tonight. The Kings have all of the momentum right now, so the Hawks will have to play a nearly perfect game to retake the series before it heads back to Chicago.
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As you can see, the Kings have played better in the playoffs than the Hawks have. This has largely been the story during this series also. The Hawks and Kings were the best possession teams in the NHL during the regular season, but the Kings have had the advantage, during this series and also hold the 2-1 advantage in the series. Coincidence? I think not. Much of the story of the series has been the Kings ability to pounce on the Hawks mistakes which is largely evidenced by the Kings’ 24.6% and climbing Power Play Percentage.
The Kings top-line of Anze Kopitar centering Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik has been mostly kept off the score sheet, but they have been tasked with shutting down the Hawks top-line and have done a fantastic job. The 2nd line of the Kings, however, has been another story. This line of Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson has absolutely been offensively back-breaking, to the Hawks. During this series, Carter has 5(!) goals, Toffoli has 3 goals and Pearson has collected 4 helpers. Drew Doughty has been his usual dangerous self, as has the Kings Power Play, which has converted 3 of it’s last 7 chances.
In net will be Jonathan Quick, once again. Quick has been solid during this series, as he has given up some soft goals, but at the same time has made some big-time clutch saves, for the Kings.
The Hawks have some cleaning up to do. While they haven’t played terribly, it certainly feels like they have. This is largely due to the fits of ugly play that the Kings have taken advantage of. A team as seasoned and battle-tested as the Hawks are shouldn’t have the undisciplined moments that have cost them big in this series. Their top-line of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Bryan Bickell has done an excellent job of shutting down the Kings’ top-line, while still generating several scoring chances of their own. Toews scored 2 goals in the 1st period during Game 2, one being a short-handed goal that the Hawks failed to ride the momentum of. The Hawks’ 2nd line however, has been less than stellar. Michal Handzus has been unable to keep up with Patrick Kane and thus neutralizing Kane’s other worldly offensive abilities that the Hawks could sorely use right now. Patrick Sharp was finally able to make some offensive noise, in Game 3, we’ll see if he can get something rolling tonight.
A few changes were made to the Hawks’ Special Teams lineups. On the top Power Play unit, Duncan Keith will be joined by Brent Seabrook on the blueline while Sharp will man the point alongside Nick Leddy on the 2nd Power Play unit.
In net for the Hawks will be Corey Crawford once again. Crawford has played excellent for the most part during the post-season, but has had his off moment during this series.
The Hawks need to rally and they need to rally now. A win tonight would even the series at 2-2 with Game 5 being played in Chicago, the Hawks would be primed to take a 3-2 series lead, putting the Kings on the brink of elimination. The Kings have the opportunity to do the same to the Hawks tonight in Los Angeles, so this won’t be easy. As long as the Hawks play smart they will have a good chance. If they play undisciplined and stupid, look no further than what happened it Games 2 and 3 for what will happen tonight.