In the first two games of the series, the Chicago Blackhawks have been doing an excellent job of keeping the Los Angeles Kings’ top line in check. In those two contests, Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, and Dustin Brown have combined for 12 shots on goal and one assist, and their struggles can largely be attributed to the solid job that Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and his linemates have been doing against them.
On Wednesday night however, the Kings took advantage of the Hawks’ focus on that top line as the squad’s second line once again stole the show. Jeff Carter led the way as he picked up a hat trick in the third period, racking up five total shots on goal in the game as he paced the Kings’ furious comeback in a 6-2 victory over the Blackhawks. Tanner Pearson also had a nice night as he picked up two assists, and Tyler Toffoli also scored a goal with two shots on net in the victory.
In fact, the second line factored in all but one of the goals that the team scored in that period. Carter got things started when he got to the front of the net to screen Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford on an early third period power play, and he picked up the deflection on Drew Doughty’s blast from the point to tie things up at 2-2.
About seven minutes later and with his team up a goal, Toffoli got in on the action. After Pearson’s shot was deflected high in the air, all of the Blackhawks’ players stopped skating, thinking that the official was going to blow the play dead with the puck hitting the netting behind the goal. The puck apparently didn’t hit that netting, because no whistle was forthcoming, and Toffoli took full advantage, continuing to skate and ultimately putting the puck past Crawford to get an insurance goal.
Later in the period, the Kings got their transition game going in a big way as they put the game on ice. Pearson pushed the puck up to Carter on the rush, and with only Johnny Oduya standing between the Kings and Crawford’s crease, Carter ripped a shot past the Chicago goaltender to make it a 5-2 game.
Aside from strictly production, the Kings’ second line displayed all of the traits that a team would want from one of their top-six groups. They showed tremendous discipline and intelligence, playing until the whistle and getting to the front of the net when necessary. They also showed great hands with the puck, moving it smoothly around the zone and really causing some issues for the Blackhawks as they attempted to defend them. Carter especially is a matchup nightmare because of his size and his quick hands, but having two forwards on the line that feed off of Carter’s strengths makes the line that much more effective.
Now, as the series shifts back to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4, the second line will become even more important. With Darryl Sutter having the ability to dictate matchups, he’s going to be getting the first line as many opportunities as they can to get away from the Toews line, which means that the second line will likely get tagged with the more difficult assignment. If they can continue to provide some offensive punch, it’s going to make life that much more difficult for Chicago, and the Kings could ride that momentum to a series lead if all goes according to plan on Saturday night at Staples Center.