LOS ANGELES -- On several occasions during a Western Conference Second Round series against the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter was asked about the importance of the first goal in a game.
There were a couple of instances when Sutter responded by saying the second goal Anaheim scored in quick succession after the first was the most important goal in a Los Angeles loss.
The Kings used that formula to their advantage Monday in a 5-2 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final. It wasn't the first goal that turned this game, it was the second a little more than two minutes later.
Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin scored to make it 1-0, then made a key defensive play to help turn it into a two-goal advantage.
Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell had the puck along the left wall in the neutral zone, and he saw teammate Patrick Kane streaking down the right wing. Had the pass made it to Kane, he might have had a clear path to the net, or at least a chance to create a 2-on-1 with Jonathan Toews. Muzzin saw him coming, too, and was able to break up the play.
"Yeah, that guy is pretty dangerous when you give him space, you always have to have an eye on where he is," Muzzin said of Kane. "[We] have to limit his chances and get the puck out of his hands."
Kings forward Marian Gaborik was able to corral the puck in the neutral zone, and after some nifty stickhandling got into Chicago's end. The Blackhawks appeared to be in a good place when Brent Seabrook sent a pass to his defense partner, Duncan Keith, along the end boards behind goaltender Corey Crawford, but Anze Kopitar spooked the Norris Trophy candidate.
Keith uncharacteristically fumbled the puck, and Kopitar turned to find Gaborik at the edge of the crease before Seabrook could get there and dislodge him. Gaborik directed the pass behind Crawford for his NHL-leading 10th goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at 11:13 of the first period, 2:13 after Muzzin scored.
Game 4 of this series had been evenly matched in the first eight minutes, but those two quick goals by the Kings changed things. Los Angeles surged and took control for long stretches over the next 20 minutes or so to build a 4-0 lead that was too great for Chicago to overcome.
As the Kings often do, they created a key goal with a couple of strong plays in the neutral zone, and Los Angeles, with a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series, is one win from the Stanley Cup Final because of it.
Game 5 is Wednesday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).