For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, NHL.com has enlisted the help of former NHL assistant coach Gord Murphy to break down the action. Murphy will be checking in throughout the series.
Murphy enjoyed a 14-season career as an NHL defenseman before spending seven seasons as an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets and most recently serving as an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers.
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs there are very few of what fans might call pretty goals. The pucks that go in are not much farther than a stick blade away from the front of the net.
According to longtime NHL assistant coach Gord Murphy, the Los Angeles Kings lead the Chicago Blackhawks 3-1 in the best-of-7 Western Conference Final because they're winning the majority of the battles in front of both nets.
"Los Angeles is winning this competitive area at both ends," Murphy told NHL.com. "They are getting to the front of Chicago's net and making it very difficult for [Corey] Crawford to not only see the puck, but also keeping him deeper in the crease. They are being rewarded by scoring goals from redirects, rebounds and loose pucks in tight. Chicago has not been able to get much traffic in front of [Jonathan] Quick. The Kings' defensemen are boxing out and controlling sticks, keeping Chicago on the perimeter."
The front of the net is only one area where the Kings have proven to be the better team so far.
"Los Angeles has impressed me with their overall depth and balance," Murphy said. "They are a team, not relying on just one or two individuals. They are getting contributions from everyone throughout the lineup and in all facets of the game, on both special teams, they've been solid defensively, gotten great goaltending. Now they can add plenty of offense as well. And being the top-scoring team in the playoffs is different than the regular season."
Keying that strong play has been the performance of the Kings' top four centers: Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarrett Stoll and Mike Richards. All four have dominated in the faceoff circle and have played strong in all three zones.
The Kings' line of Carter and rookies Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli has been the standout of the series, combining for eight goals and 18 points.
"Pearson and Toffoli are both playing with a lot of energy, speed and effort, which is a good complement to Carter's skill set," Murphy said. "There appears to be harmony with Carter as the veteran leading the two younger teammates, who are eager to follow."
Some of the Blackhawks' loudest offensive players have been muted. Patrick Kane has one assist and Patrick Sharp has one goal. Marian Hossa has three assists, but two of them came in Game 1.
Murphy said he sees good things from Hossa, who is tied with Jonathan Toews for the Blackhawks' lead in scoring with 14 points.
"I thought Hossa was Chicago's best player in Game 4," he said. "He had at least four quality scoring chances, was skating really well. Chicago's big guns are having a difficult time against Los Angeles' stingy defensive game. There is not a lot of room, not many shooting lanes or opportunities, and when there is Quick has been there."
A big part of that defensive effort has been turned in by the Kings' top pair of Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin.
"I can't say enough good things about Doughty," Murphy said. "He is playing at such a high level in all areas of the game. Also the play of Muzzin … to evolve from being a healthy scratch early in the season to playing with Doughty in the top defense pair and playing all situations, that is a credit to him and the Los Angeles coaches."
Though the Kings appear poised to return to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three seasons with a win in Game 5 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS), Murphy isn't ready to count the Blackhawks out.
"I don't know if I would say that Los Angeles is dominating the series," he said. "Yes, they have a 3-1 lead and looked convincing in Game 4. They have been the better team, but I would not say dominating. There have been periods where Chicago has played well."
To do more than play well, Murphy said the Blackhawks need to get out to a quick start and use some of the energy from what should be a packed, deafening crowd at United Center.
"For the Blackhawks to get back in the series they need to focus on confidence and the excitement of playing at home," he said. "Come out and play well in the first period, get the crowd behind them, and work to gain some momentum and energy back into their game. They can only get back in the series through winning Game 5. It starts there."
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor