The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings kicked off the final leg of the NHL regular season on Wednesday night, in a battle of the league’s two perennial Stanley Cup contenders. With both teams meeting in the Western Conference Final the past two years, and the nation’s eyes on L.A.’s Staples Center, the two points on the line seemed much more than face value.
Both teams came ready to play, with their top lines trading quality chances on the opening shift. It wouldn’t take long for the visitors to get on the board, as David Rundblad’s point shot was blocked, landing directly on the stick of Blackhawks’ All-Star Patrick Kane. Chicago’s leading scorer made no mistake firing the puck into the open net, and the Blackhawks took a 1-0 lead less than 3 minutes in.
The two high-power offenses continued to trade blows, and the Kings tied the game at 1 when Jeff Carter spun and fired a wrist shot through traffic and past Corey Crawford, who had made several big saves until then.
Drew Doughty would take the game’s first penalty, a can-opener tripping call on Brandon Saad. The Blackhawks wouldn’t squander their initial power-play opportunity, as Kane fed Patrick Sharp cross-ice, who blasted a huge shot home, giving the Blackhawks the lead once more, at 2-1.
Doughty would take his second consecutive penalty as the first period wound down, but the Blackhawks could not find another power-play goal in them. They wouldn’t have to wait long for another opportunity, though, as Dustin Brown took an offensive zone penalty with less than 2 to go in the first. Though the Blackhawks dominated posession in the final 90 seconds, they could not add to their lead, and Chicago skated into the first intermission up 2-1 in goals, and 13-10 in shots.
Joakim Nordstrom would take the Blackhawks’ first penalty of the affair to open the second period, and like Chicago did in the first, the Kings didn’t waste any time finding the net. Jeff Carter would score his second of the evening on the power-play for his 14th goal of the year, tying the game at 2.
The Blackhawks would get their fourth opportunity on the power-play soon thereafter, as Dustin Brown took his second penalty of the night for high-sticking. The Blackhawks couldn’t convert, and soon after fell into a period of terrible zone entries, and the Kings took to dominating the play.
In one of the oddest plays of the season, Brent Seabrook took a penalty for closing his hand on the puck, following a 20-second period where 5 Blackhawks and Kings were jamming at the puck under the defenseman’s leg. Both Seabrook and coach Joel Quenneville were livid with the call, but thankfully, the Blackhawks killed the penalty.
The second period ended with the game in a 2-2 deadlock, with the Blackhawks continuing to lead in shots, 23-19.
The third period began with a bang, as the Blackhawks’ third line awoke from their recent slumber and delivered a huge goal. Teuvo Teravainen fed a pass to Andrew Shaw, who broke his recent slump with the go-ahead goal in close quarters.
The Blackhawks and Kings exchanged back-and-forth chances for the middle portion of the period, and both Crawford and Jonathan Quick had to be sharp to keep the score 3-2. Once again, however, the one-goal lead was not built to last.
Tyler Toffoli, in his return to the Kings’ roster from sickness, found a loose puck in the high slot and fired it home past Crawford to tie the game for the third time with 6 minutes remaining in regulation.
The frenzied offense continued at both ends, with the Blackhawks missing on a glorious chance to re-take the lead after the fourth line nearly scored on a jam play in front of Quick.
The play went the other way, and after the Kings set up in the offensive zone, Jake Muzzin’s point shot found it’s way past Crawford with Dustin Brown causing a commotion in front. . The Kings took their first lead of the night with 3:00 remaining.
With the extra attacker, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa combined for a brilliant chance, but the puck bounced off the post and back under Jonathan Quick. The Blackhawks could not feel any more magic, and the Kings took the win in regulation at home.
Jonathan Quick earned the win, his first in 5 games, with a 24 save effort, while Crawford made 23 saves at the other end. Jake Muzzin’s 6th goal of the season was the difference-maker for the Kings, who opened the Blackhawks’ 6-game Ice Show road trip with a loss in regulation.
The ‘Hawks are back in action on Friday night, where they travel down the road to face the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center.
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