LOS ANGELES—What is it with the Los Angeles Kings and their beloved Staples Center? With Tuesday night’s 3-1 decision over the Blackhawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions counted their eighth consecutive victory this postseason and 15th overall.
Head Coach Joel Quenneville predicted that his Blackhawks would encounter a “hostile” environment in their attempt to seize a 3-0 stranglehold on the Western Conference Final. How about “arctic”? It was so frigid in the Staples Center that you could have hung meat. So is that the secret? The Kings freeze opponents into submission?
More likely than that, what you witnessed in Game 3 of this tournament was a gallant effort by a proud bunch of players overseen by a driven coach, Darryl Sutter, who can’t get no satisfaction from excuses. His Kings were bruised after two previous heavyweight series, an important component in Mike Richards was scratched again, and two defeats at the United Center put the incumbent title-holders on the brink.
So, the Kings were desperate, and the Blackhawks expected nothing less. What Coach Q and most of his squad also aspired to was a corresponding counter punch, but it didn’t materialize until the second half or so of a fairly edgy affair. Bryan Bickell, who notched his seventh playoff goal with a curl pattern around Jonathan Quick to halve Los Angeles’ lead to 2-1 late in the second period — only the visitors’ 10th shot to that point — found the would-be tying puck on his stick late in the third.
He’s still trying to resurrect exactly how and why Quick managed a sprawling athletic save from the tuck position.
“I thought for sure that was going in,” Bickell rued. “He stopped it with his arm. His forearm. He’s good for a handful of those when he’s on.”
Quick, removed early from Game 2, did not have to be spectacular at the start. Both coaches have been preaching about creating traffic. If anybody knows about traffic, it would have to be men who work in Los Angeles and Chicago. But the Blackhawks weren’t departing their zone with the greatest of ease this night, and the Kings nailed them twice.
Justin Williams punctuated a pressure pattern just 3:21 into the match with a drive past Corey Crawford. In the seventh minute of the second period, the Blackhawks netminder thought he had lined up Slava Voynov, who foiled the plan by breaking his stick on the follow through. Crawford, bracing for a blur, got a change-up instead, and the puck wobbled in off his left skate.
As advertised, the Staples Center was loud. A smattering of Blackhawk sweaters attended, but black and white dominated. The Kings are almost entirely clothed in hockey tuxedos at home, a far cry and welcome change from their original colors of purple and gold. Jack Kent Cooke, the Kings’ first owner, insisted the former was “Forum blue” in deference to the Fabulous Forum that he built. But the combination was the same for his basketball Lakers, who thought they were wearing purple all along.
Dwight King’s empty-net marker doomed any ideas the Blackhawks held about forcing overtime or even stealing a win. It would have gone down at least as petty theft, but the possibility was there, especially after they killed a four-minute penalty to Duncan Keith for chopping Jeff Carter in the middle of the rink. Keith said he did not mean to inflict injury; Sutter barked that Keith should have been banished from the ice directly to the locker room for the rest of the evening.
If Tom Cruise returns for Game 4 Thursday night, he might feel like he’s watching an action movie that’s about to turn nasty. The Kings have found their elbows.