The Western Conference Final moves to Staples Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, where the Kings will host the Blackhawks for Games 3 and 4 of the series. Chicago will no doubt be looking to avenge a tough 6-2 loss in Game 2, where they surrendered six unanswered goals to L.A., with five coming in the third period. Chicago has played well in Los Angeles recently, taking 6 of 8 decisions at the Staples Center (regular season and playoffs) since the start of the 2010-11 season. Meanwhile, the Kings are just 3-3 on home ice in the 2014 playoffs.
Game 3 should mark the return of center Andrew Shaw from injury; the 22-year-old pivot has not played since Game 1 of the Second Round series against Minnesota, when he left the contest with a lower-body injury. The Belleville, Ontario, native netted 39 points (20G, 19A) in the regular season, and added four more (2G, 2A) in seven postseason games. Having Shaw back in the lineup is important for the Blackhawks: “The Mutt” brings priceless depth to Chicago’s bottom six, and his energy and grit tends to draw attention from opponents, often baiting them into taking bad penalties or losing focus of the Blackhawks’ stars.
Nine Kings skaters notched a point in their third-period comeback in Game 2, but no one was more effective for the visitors than center Jeff Carter. The London, Ontario, native netted a hat trick in the frame, and added an assist for good measure, to lead the effort. He also became the first player to register three goals in the third period of a postseason game since May 18, 2002, when Darren McCarty did so for Detroit in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final vs. Colorado.
The Kings’ come-from-behind effort on Wednesday was a result of their solid depth at forward, with L.A.’s top line of Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown accounting for just one assist in the proceedings. Their second line of Carter (3G, 1A), Tanner Pearson (2A) and Tyler Toffoli (1G) combined for four goals and seven points, while role players including Justin Williams, Mike Richards and Dwight King also contributed. It will be interesting to see if Kings bench boss Darryl Sutter, with the benefit of last line change, will try to get Kopitar’s line away from Jonathan Toews’ line in an effort to get them going offensively, or if the two Selke Trophy finalists will be left to duke it out at both ends of the ice as the series goes on.
Nick Leddy tallied his second point of the series with a breakaway tally in the first period of Game 2, after collecting a primary assist on Brandon Saad’s Game 1 goal. The tally marked Leddy’s first postseason goal since April 21, 2012 vs. Phoenix, and his second career playoff mark. The Blackhawks are at their best when their blue line is producing; their defensemen have netted 39 points (8G, 31A) in the playoffs, with Brent Seabrook (2G, 9A) and Duncan Keith (3G, 7A) leading the charge.
The Blackhawks will have had nearly three full days to put the disappointing Game 2 collapse behind them, and should be hungry to get back to work and take back home ice by winning at least one on their trip to Hollywood. Rather than focusing on the negatives, Chicago would be wise to concentrate on what got them the lead in the first 38 minutes of that game: using their team speed to their advantage, getting traffic to the front of the net and controlling their breakouts from the defensive zone. With added speed and depth in the form of Shaw, and a renewed sense of purpose, expect a top-flight effort from the visitors in Game 3.