Before they knew what hit them, the defending Stanley Cup Champions melted down in a 6-2 loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final.
Chicago led 2-0 near the end of the second and appeared headed for a 2-0 lead in the series, which shifts to Staples Center for Game 3 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS),. Instead, the Kings flipped the entire scene upside down in the final 22 minutes to even the series at a game apiece.
Ignited by a goal from Justin Williams that cut Chicago's lead to 2-1 with 1:46 left in the second, the Kings scored five unanswered goals in the third for a resounding victory, sending the series to Los Angeles even at one win apiece -- and leaving the Blackhawks shaking their heads.
"You get in after two and you're up 2-0, it's a different game maybe," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "The way it turned on a dime like that, I don't know if we've seen a game like that all year, where we're doing everything right and then all of a sudden it was a disaster."
That's an understatement. The way it all unraveled, especially in the third period, was striking. The shots on goal were even after two periods, but the game really wasn't. The Blackhawks outskated the Kings for much of the game's first half, then watched the visitors take control after Williams' goal.
The Kings took over after Chicago failed to capitalize on several chances to push its lead to three or more goals, thanks in large part to a great performance by L.A. goaltender Jonathan Quick. That was all Los Angeles needed.
Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook had a golden chance to make it 3-0 with 7:17 left in the second when he redirected a saucer pass by forward Kris Versteeg during a 2-on-1 rush, but Quick stopped that shot and everything else Chicago threw at him the rest of the way. Momentum swung heavily toward the Kings, and they didn't waste it.
"I really liked how we played for 38 minutes," Quenneville said. "We did everything we were looking to do and they got a little momentum at the end of the [second] period, scoring a big goal for them on kind of an innocent play and it gave them some life. [We] took a couple funny penalties [in the third] and they're both in our net, and that was it."
Just like that, the Kings delivered a knockout punch that left Blackhawks fans sitting in stunned silence.
Aiding the effort were those two "funny" penalties, which gave the Kings back-to-back power plays in the first few minutes of the third. The first was called on Brandon Bollig for interference near the Chicago blue line at 1:14 with the puck at the other end of the rink. Jeff Carter was credited with getting his stick on a long shot by defenseman Drew Doughty during the ensuing power play at 1:37; it turned out to be his first of three goals in the period.
Even more damaging were goals scored by defenseman Jake Muzzin at 4:04 and forward Tyler Toffoli at 8:59 for the Kings' first lead. Following a bench minor against the Blackhawks for too many men on the ice, Muzzin rifled a shot from the left circle past goalie Corey Crawford on the short side to make it 3-2. Toffoli snapped a wrist shot into the net almost five minutes later to give Los Angeles a two-goal lead.
Crawford and other Blackhawks lost sight of the puck in midair following the initial save and appeared to slow up. Kings forward Tanner Pearson didn't stop, collected the puck and sent it to Toffoli for the shot.
Carter then beat Crawford at 14:44 with a wrister on a 2-on-1 break to make it 5-2 and scored an empty-net goal at 16:29 for the final margin. The five goals allowed in the third tied the mark for the most the Blackhawks had ever allowed in the third period of a Stanley Cup Playoff game.
"It's too many," Crawford said. "It's going to be tough to win a hockey game when you give up that many goals in a short amount of time. You can't be giving up that [many]. I don't know how many goals it was in the third. You're definitely going to lose a hockey game if you give up that many goals in one period."
Muzzin's goal during that second power play stuck out to Crawford afterward.
"We needed a big stop on the second [one]," he said. "The first power play they got one and we needed a big kill and they got another one."
The Blackhawks were ranked first in the NHL in penalty-killing coming into the game, having allowed four goals in 48 times shorthanded. They allowed two on four Kings power plays in Game 2.
"We were playing some really good hockey in the first half of the game," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "It turned around pretty quickly. That's a team that wants to win. They have a lot of experience at it and know what to do in a series like this. At the same time, we have to stay with it."