They were good; they’ll have to be great.
The Kings stretched past California boundaries this playoff year for the first time Sunday, less than 48 hours after finishing business with Anaheim, leaving minimal time to transition into their second consecutive Western Conference Finals matchup with the Blackhawks.
The quick turnaround didn’t seem to hamper the Kings much, who laid out an admirable effort, falling 3-1 Sunday in the series opener at United Center – a building where the Blackhawks are now a perfect 7-0 this postseason.
“I thought we were rolling four lines pretty well,” Anze Kopitar told reporters following the game. “Again, had some chances but we’re going to have to make it harder on their goalie.”
The Kings outshot the Blackhawks 26-20, including a tilted second period that saw the Kings out-fire Chicago 17-6, but couldn’t capitalize on, or create many second opportunities on Chicago’s Corey Crawford.
Willie Mitchell returned to the Kings’ lineup for the first time since Game 6 against San Jose, but couldn’t help the Kings evade early troubles on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks opening the afternoon’s scoring on their first power play of the series, taking advantage of an infraction against Alec Martinez, who retaliated well after a whistle when Brandon Bollig crashed the Kings’ net following up a on play.
As Martinez served his penalty, the Kings struggled to clear their zone, failing on at least three clear-out attempts, leaving them drained as Brandon Saad redirected Nick Leddy’s slap-shot from the point and past Jonathan Quick to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead with 5:14 left to play in the first period.
Entering the second period down a goal after Saad’s opening tally, the Kings came out flying, and the youngsters Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli worked together to bury the equalizer.
Pearson, steaming into Chicago’s zone off of a Jeff Carter pass, took the puck wide and deep to the left corner and fed Tyler Toffoli, who was streaking to the net, a perfect pass which Toffoli touched home high and to the right over Corey Crawford’s left shoulder.
Toffoli’s goal, his fourth of the postseason, tied the score 1-1 with 15:25 left to play in the second period. Pearson’s assist was his seventh point of the playoffs, his second in as many games.
Chicago regained the lead after the Kings fell victim to a neutral zone turnover. The Blackhawks transitioned quickly, set up, and Duncan Keith labeled a slap-shot past Jonathan Quick that deflected off both Trevor Lewis and Jarret Stoll, changing directions twice before finding the back of the net.
Keith’s pinball goal gave Chicago a 2-1 lead with 8:06 left to play in the second, which the Blackhawks would carry into the third period.
Unlike the second period, the Kings had trouble getting shots on Chicago’s Corey Crawford in the third. As the Kings began to run out of time, they got caught pinching looking for that second goal, and allowed the Blackhawks to walk in and score their third of the afternoon.
Jake Muzzin got caught trying to land a major hit on Brian Bickell, missed on the risky attempt, and Chicago transitioned on a 3-on-1, which Jonathan Toews finished, rocketing home a one-time shot past a helpless Jonathan Quick to give the Blackhawks a 3-1 lead with 3:50 to play.
Jonathan Quick allowed three goals on 20 shots, but played extremely solid. After the Blackhawks’ first goal, Quick lost battles to a puck that changed direction multiple times, and a 3-on-1 attack that would’ve been nearly impossible to stonewall.
Anze Kopitar, who didn’t register a shot Sunday afternoon, was held without a point for only the second time in the Kings’ 15 playoff games so far.
Willie Mitchell logged 16:49 of ice time in his return to the Kings’ bench, laying a pair of hits and blocking one shot.
The Kings will practice at United Center at 1:30 Monday afternoon. Game 2 is slated for Wednesday evening at United Center; a 5:00 PM start in Los Angeles.