After a couple of really poor performances on the road to start this series with back-to-back losses against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Kings returned home for Game 3 of their best-of-seven series in the Western Conference final tonight, needing a win to avoid falling into a hole that almost no one comes out of. The good news was, as I’m sure almost everyone is aware of by now, the Kings have been utterly dominant at home. They had won 14 straight games at Staples Center heading into tonight, were 7-0 there in the playoffs and 26-4-1 overall on the season. No team has enjoyed playing at home quite like the Kings have this year, and if they wanted to get back in this series, they were going to need their incredible home success to continue. Darryl Sutter decided to make a change up front, dropping the struggling Anze Kopitar from centre on the first line between Dustin Brown and Justin Williams to centre on the third line between Dwight King and Trevor Lewis. He swapped spots with Jarret Stoll. On defense, Jake Muzzin replaced Alec Martinez on Matt Greene’s left on the third pairing. Muzzin has had a tough go in the playoffs, but when Martinez got a chance to step in for him in Game 2 on Sunday, he was awful.
The game started well for the Kings. Just over three minutes into the first period, from the left point in the Chicago zone, Rob Scuderi passed the puck across the point to Slava Voynov, who then made a great pass to Williams in the high left slot at the circle, and he walked in a bit before snapping a shot low by the blocker of Corey Crawford. Just over three minutes later, Kopitar headed to the penalty box for tripping, but the Kings were able to kill it off. Then with just under six minutes left in the period, Williams and Patrick Sharp got into a scrum off of a faceoff, and both received minor penalties for roughing, setting up two minutes of 4-on-4 play, but neither team was able to take advantage of the open ice. Williams for Sharp is a pretty even trade off, but the Kings should still avoid those situations with more open ice, as it favours a speedy, offensive team like the Blackhawks more than it does them. Just over a minute after he got out of the box, Sharp went right back to it, taking a slashing penalty, but the Kings were unable to capitalize, though Drew Doughty rang a great shot off of the post late in it. It was a good opening frame for the Kings, who held an 8-7 edge in shots.
Not even three minutes into the second period, the Kings got a chance to extend their lead as Johnny Oduya went off for interference, but they failed. However, not even two minutes later, from the left circle in the ‘Hawks zone, Jeff Carter played the puck to the bottom of it to Tyler Toffoli, who drove hard to the net but the puck rolled off of his backhand to the right circle, where Voynov walked in and stepped into a slap shot that broke his stick, but the puck ended up appearing to slide under the left pad of Crawford anyways, who appeared to be only able to get a piece of it and deflect it a bit to his left, but not far enough. Just over a minute later, Carter tapped a glove of Duncan Keith’s that was on the ice while Keith was trying to pick it up, and Keith decided that the appropriate response would be to whack Carter in the face with his stick with his free right hand. Carter went off for repairs, and the Kings got a four-minute power play, as Keith received a double-minor penalty for high-sticking since it drew blood. The Kings looked awful on the power play, though. That was a ridiculous play by Keith, and you know Kings fans will be livid if he’s not suspended, especially after Dave Bolland got nothing for a questionable hit late in Game 1 on Saturday that supposedly concussed Mike Richards, the Kings’ leading scorer in these playoffs at the time. Richards hasn’t played since. In the last minute of the period, Bryan Bickell picked up a loose puck behind the Kings net to the right of Jonathan Quick, came out the other side and slid the puck under the right pad of Quick. That would set an interesting third period up. Despite giving up the late goal, it was another good showing by the Kings in the middle frame, in which they held a 9-3 edge in shots.
Not even two minutes into the third period, Marcus Kruger went off for high-sticking, but the Kings were unable to get their insurance goal back. Late in Kruger’s penalty, Dustin Brown went off for interference, setting up a very brief segment of 4-on-4 play before almost a full Chicago power play. The Blackhawks looked very dangerous on the power play and had a ton of chances, but the Kings, somehow, escaped it with their lead intact. Joel Quenneville pulled Crawford for an extra attacker with just under two minutes to go in the period, and as time winded down, from the right circle in the Kings zone, Greene pushed the puck ahead to Carter, who skated into the right side of the Kings neutral zone and fired at the empty net, but he missed to the left. However, the puck bounced off of the boards and right out to the left circle in the Chicago zone, and King won the race there and immediately fired the puck into the empty net to seal the win for the Kings. The Kings may have held an 11-10 edge in shots in the final frame, but it was all ‘Hawks, as they were putting on tons of pressure and just missed scoring a ton of times.
The Kings sure do have something special going on at home, where they just extended their winning streak to 15 games. It’s a lot like what the Kings had going for them on the road in last year’s playoffs, where they were setting records, winning their first 10 road games. If the Kings were even a fraction of the team they were on the road last year, they’d be set, but for whatever reason, they’ve just lost it. But, that’s not the Kings’ focus for now. They still have two more chances to win in Chicago, and they’ll only have to win one of them if they take care of their two remaining home games in this series, Game 4 on Thursday and a potential Game 6 on Monday. After getting badly outplayed in two games in Chicago, the Kings returned home tonight and not only won, but put together a great performance, despite still being without one of their top players in Richards. Along with Dustin Penner, Carter and Toffoli are doing a great job on the second line, and the Kings will certainly need that to continue until Richards gets back. They were on their heels a bit in the third period, but it can be expected that the other team will really push when down a goal late in the game. The Kings aren’t out of the woods yet, though. They will need another big performance like this if they want to tie this series at two and turn it into a best-of-three. Perhaps the NHL will help them out and suspend Keith, arguably Chicago’s best defenseman. If their winning streak at home comes to an end in Game 4, then they will face the daunting task of needing to win three straight games, and two of them would be in Chicago. Either way, be sure to check in for my post-game reaction after Game 4, but for now, it’s time for my picks for tonight’s three stars.
Third Star: Jonathan Quick.
Quick may have only faced 20 shots tonight, but half of them came in the third period, when the Blackhawks were really pushing. They came really close several times to tying the game, but Quick wouldn’t break, and he topped it off with a tremendous blocker save right in front on Bickell late in the game.
Second Star: Justin Williams.
Someone must have told Williams this was Game 7. For all intents and purposes, it was an elimination game for the Kings. What would the chances of them coming back from being down 3-0 in this series have been? Williams said it best himself before the game. “It’s not do-or-die, but it is.” Williams is building quite a reputation as a big-game player, and he stepped up when his team needed him most once again tonight. He opened the scoring early in the game with a huge goal on a great shot to finish a great shift, and was creating stuff all throughout the night.
First Star: Slava Voynov.
What else can you say about this guy? In 16 playoff games this year, Voynov has 11 points, tying him with Carter for the Kings’ lead in scoring. He also has assisted on three of the Kings’ six goals in three games in this series and scored another one of them. He’s a 23-year-old defenseman in his second NHL season. He has five goals, the most any Kings defenseman has ever scored in a single postseason, and four of them, including tonight’s, have been game-winning goals. He got a bit lucky as his stick broke on his shot that he scored on tonight, but he also made a terrific pass to Williams on the opening goal. Voynov has arguably been the Kings’ best skater in these playoffs, and as a pending restricted free agent, he’s in for a heck of a raise.
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