The Blackhawks find themselves in an uncomfortable position, down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final after losing both tilts at Staples Center over the weekend. The series heads back to the United Center for Game 5, with the Blackhawks facing the first of three possible elimination games. Although Chicago has a 7-1 record at home in the playoffs, they’ll need to play a tighter game and make several improvements to force a Game 6. It’s one game at a time, explained Patrick Kane: “You've got to make sure you're ready for Game 5 and focus on that game solely to try and win that one and see what happens after that one.”
One area that has plagued the Blackhawks in their three losses to the Kings is their inability to win faceoffs. Chicago entered the series as one of the better faceoff teams in the postseason, but after winning 50 percent at the dot in Game 1, subsequent results have been less than ideal. The Blackhawks were a dismal 38.6 percent on draws in Game 2, 47.4 percent in Games 3 and 42.1 percent in Game 4. The Kings are almost uniformly good on draws, with three of four centers well above 50 percent. The key pivot for the Kings has been Jarret Stoll, who has won 56 of 87 draws through the first four tilts, good for 64.4 percent. If the Blackhawks want to regain their footing in the series, they’ll have to start by winning more faceoffs in order to kickstart their possession game.
Bryan Bickell’s third-period goal in Game 4 was a simple backhanded finish after a flurry of activity in front of Jonathan Quick, but his tally not only gave Chicago hope of closing the gap, it also snapped his four-game streak without a point. To say that Bickell has often powered the Blackhawks is an understatement; since the start of the 2012 playoffs, the 28-year-old power forward has tallied 18 goals in 45 games, second in the league only to Kings forward Jeff Carter (22). Getting Bickell in front of the Kings net was the key to solving L.A. in five games last postseason, so there’s every reason for Chicago to continue using the same tactic as they face three elimination games.
Drew Doughty’s success in the series has been well documented, but his defense partner, Jake Muzzin, has provided plenty of offensive spark for the Kings as well, compiling four points (2G, 2A) in four games in the series. Muzzin notched the game-winner in Game 2 at the United Center, then posted his first multi-point outing of the postseason in Game 4, opening the scoring for L.A. with a power-play goal before assisting on Dustin Brown’s game-winner. The Kings have a fleet of active blueliners—including Muzzin, Doughty, Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez—that has added another dimension to their burgeoning offense, which will require a renewed commitment to backchecking and shot-blocking by the Blackhawks in order to limit chances from the point.
Although Chicago had kept L.A.’s top line at bay through the first three games of the series, it seemed only a matter of time before the likes of Kopitar, Brown and Marian Gaborik engineered a breakthrough. Kopitar and Gaborik connected on the Kings’ second goal of the game, while Brown finished off a tic-tac-toe sequence on the power play to complete the home side’s romp in the first period. Kopitar added a second assist to mark his first multi-point outing of the series; the 2013 Selke Trophy finalist continues to lead the league in scoring with 17 assists and 22 points in 18 playoff games.
Chicago showed better attacking verve in the latter stages of Game 4, getting goals from Brandon Saad and Bickell, but still exhibited some sloppy play in their own zone that allowed the Kings to put the game out of reach in the first period. If the Blackhawks want to maximize their chances for a Game 5 victory, they will need to stay out of the box, eliminate turnovers in the neutral zone and prevent the Kings from setting up effective screens in front of Corey Crawford. And at this point in the series, there may not be such a thing as a bad shot to take at Quick, who hasn’t been tested as much as Chicago would like through the first four games. Tilting the ice in the other direction will require patience against a team like L.A., which is too skilled and too organized to break down easily, but time is starting to run out for the defending Stanley Cup champions.