LOS ANGELES -- On a night when the Chicago Blackhawks needed to dig deep, their fourth line more than came through.
Ben Eager, Tomas Kopecky and Adam Burish responded by contributing heavily to a puck-possession tutorial that overwhelmed the Los Angeles Kings. The trio contributed four shots, three of which came from Kopecky, whose two-goal third period helped the Hawks to a 3-0 victory that snapped a three-game losing streak.
With forward Dustin Byfuglien forced to drop back to the blue line after injuries to Brian Campbell and Brent Seabrook, Kopecky took full advantage of his opportunity to play by recording the second two-goal game of his career.
"I was a little tired after the Olympics," admitted Kopecky, who played for Slovakia. "I didn't have the jump that I had before. (Eager) and Burish were skating all over, dishing me the puck. You get more confidence when you have the puck more. We were creating chances, and that's how we have to play."
The Hawks' defense, which was also without Kim Johnsson, limited Los Angeles to just 17 shots and made it easy for Antti Niemi to earn his fifth shutout. The stifling defensive effort came one night after the Hawks allowed 36 shots in a 4-2 loss at Anaheim, a game that followed heartbreaking weekend losses to Philadelphia and Washington.
"We focused on the defense," Kopecky added. "That leads to good offense, and we were successful."
The Blackhawks moved into first place in the Western Conference while improving to 12-1-3 in the second half of back-to-back games. The Hawks and San Jose Sharks both have 96 points with 12 games remaining, but Chicago has one more victory.
Depth players are crucial at this time of the season, according to Kopecky -- who was the Hawks' lesser-heralded free-agent signee from Detroit …behind Marian Hossa.
"I saw it last year in Detroit," he said. "In the playoffs, (we're) the kind of players, the third and fourth line, (who) are going to be really huge part of the hockey team, to go far in the season. Johnny (Toews), Kaner (Kane) and Hossa, it's going to be tough for them in the playoffs."
The Hawks led 1-0 after two periods on Troy Brouwer's second-period goal before Kopecky, a healthy scratch in three of the last four games, took the puck in his own zone and skated up left wing. He fired a low shot from above the left circle that went past Jonathan Quick's left pad at 2:38 to make it 2-0.
Kopecky scored his second goal at 6:08, getting his own rebound in the slot and lifting the puck over Quick's outstretched glove.
The Blackhawks outshot L.A. 37-17 and did not give the Kings a power play.
The Hawks took command of the game in the second period, rattling off the first 11 shots and taking the lead at 11:36.
Jordan Hendry's poke-check forced a Dustin Brown turnover in the neutral zone and the Blackhawks worked the puck cross-ice to Patrick Kane. He skated down the right wing and took a shot that Quick stopped, but the puck dropped to the crease. Jonathan Toews, trailing on the play, crashed the net and took a swipe at the puck, but Brouwer lifted it over Quick to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead.
Hendry's contribution to Brouwer's goal was not recorded on the score sheet, but it wasn't lost on Toews.
"Twice on that shift (Hendry) had great gap, and had confidence to step up and force (that) turnover," he said. "We went back the other way 3-on-2 and that's what caused the goal. It's great to see the confidence he's playing with."
Hendry also denied Los Angeles' Wayne Simmonds' tip-in try from close-in at 7:52 of the second period.
With the goal, Brouwer became the fifth Blackhawk with 20 goals this season.
Chicago took the first eleven shots of the period, punctuating their domination of the Kings' zone when Patrick Sharp's blast knocked Quick's mask off at 6:13.
"It wasn't that we looked bad. I thought they looked very good," said Kings coach Terry Murray, who was impressed with the Blackhawks' ability to control the puck in his team's zone.
Byfuglien manned the right point on the power play and paired with Keith and Boynton at various points as Chicago coach Joel Quenneville rotated his defensive pairs throughout.
"(Byfuglien) was big, strong, effective, a threat offensively, patient defensively," Quenneville said. "(I'm) very happy with his game. A nice little diamond in the rough we've found."
"Our defense across the board was rock solid," Quenneville added. "Everyone was a new pair. It worked very well."
The Kings are slipping of late -- they've dropped two in a row at home and are just 3-4-1 since the Olympic break. They stayed at 85 points, the same as the Nashville Predators, though Los Angeles is sixth in the West because it has played two fewer games.
"I think it is important for this team, at this time of year, to hit the reset button, and come back to work tomorrow," said Brown, the Kings' captain. "The second period we came out and did not have that jump. 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."
|Troy Brouwer (20) Wrist shot - ASST: Jonathan Toews (36), Patrick Kane (52)|
1 - 0 CHI
|Tomas Kopecky (5) Wrist shot - ASST: Dustin Byfuglien (13), Niklas Hjalmarsson (12)|
2 - 0 CHI
|Tomas Kopecky (6) Wrist shot - ASST: NONE|
3 - 0 CHI
|Justin Williams Hi stick - double minor against Brent Sopel|
|Raitis Ivanans Interference against Andrew Ladd|
|Raitis Ivanans Fighting (maj) against Ben Eager|
|Ben Eager Fighting (maj) against Raitis Ivanans|
|Raitis Ivanans Roughing against Ben Eager|
|Rich Clune Slashing against Nick Boynton|