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Kings handle Blackhawks, now one win from Final

by Alex Kinkopf / Los Angeles Kings

LOS ANGELES – This time, the Kings struck early.

Three first period goals sent the Kings surging, beating Corey Crawford three times on their first six shots of the evening en rout to a 5-2 win Monday night at STAPLES Center, taking a 3-1 lead in this series against Chicago.

Before they got in tune with their offense, the Kings had to kill off two early penalties, which were called in succession of one another. After nixing Chicago’s power play twice in the opening minutes, the Kings flipped the switch and hounded the Blackhawks’ penalty kill.

“Yep, that’s clearly the difference in the game,” Darryl Sutter told reporters following the game in regards to the night’s special teams effects. “The first period is clearly special teams. Two in. I think there was four total. That’s the difference.”

After the puck jumbled around atop Chicago’s zone as the Kings tried to settle down on their first power play of the evening, Jake Muzzin calmed down the play, and with patience that came with having time and space aplenty, walked in and fired a wrist shot that beat Corey Crawford to the top-shelf.

Muzzin’s goal, his second of the series, gave the Kings a 1-0 lead nine minutes into the game. Muzzin now has points in three straight games.

Just over two minutes later, Anze Kopitar forced Duncan Keith to cough up the puck, then circled the perimeter of Chicago’s zone and flung a shot/pass toward Marian Gaborik who was crashing the Blackhawks’ net. Gaborik tipped home Kopitar’s feed for his 10th goal of the postseason, giving the Kings a 2-0 lead 11:13 into the game.

Gaborik’s goal set a new personal record for playoff goals scored in a single season for the veteran forward. Gaborik’s 10th of this playoffs eclipses the nine he scored with the Minnesota Wild during the 2003 postseason.

Back to work on the power play, Dustin Brown added to the Kings’ lead, stuffing home a puck that Justin Williams deflected in his direction after Jake Muzzin sent the puck to the front of the net from the point.

The Kings took a 3-0 lead into the locker room after the first.

Then, Drew Doughty, who rocketed home the Kings’ game-winning goal in Game 3, extended the Kings’ lead to 4-0 with a wrist-shot off his back foot. Doughty, who was providing support to Anze Kopitar who was being pressured by Chicago’s defense, snapped what looked to be a harmless wrister to traffic in front of the net.

Corey Crawford was completely blinded by the activity in front of his net, and Doughty’s wrister gave the Kings a 4-0 lead with 7:17 to play in the second period.

Just over a minute after Doughty added to the Kings’ lead, the Blackhawks got on the board with a Brandon Saad backhand shot that beat Jonathan Quick high and to the right corner.

Brian Bickell cut Chicago’s deficit to two goals with 10:31 to play in regulation, banging home a rebound after the Blackhawks were unable to execute on prior attempts.

Chicago pulled Corey Crawford from it’s net with just over three minutes remaining, and Tanner Pearson sealed the deal with an empty-net tally with just over a minute to play in regulation time.

This gave the Kings a 5-2 lead, the night’s final score.

Jonathan Quick made 22 saves on the Blackhawks’ 24 shots. Drew Doughty, Justin Williams, and Jake Muzzin each now have points in three straight games. Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson each have points in five straight games, and Jeff Carter has points in five straight.

Since the Kings were down 0-3 to the San Jose Sharks in the first round, they’ve gone 11-4 and have outscored their opponents 53-30 in that span.

The Kings, who shut down Chicago’s power play, killing off three of their penalties tonight, are now 8-0 in the playoffs when they don’t surrender a power play goal. The Kings, who led 4-1 after two periods Monday night, are now also 8-0 this postseason when leading after two periods.

This series shifts back to Chicago Wednesday for Game 5, scheduled for a 5:00 PM PST start at the United Center. The Kings hold a 3-1 series lead.

“Don’t look behind, and don’t look ahead,” Darry Sutter told reporters Monday night in regards to Game 5. “We play again. We’ve got a big travel day tomorrow and a tough game.”

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