The Los Angeles Kings came into Thursday night’s game with the Chicago Blackhawks riding the momentum of a 15-game home winning streak, as well as looking for an opportunity to tie up the series.
What happened instead was that the Kings’ chances evaporated in a flurry of undisciplined hockey, and rather than a tied series, they are now going to be facing elimination on Saturday night at Chicago’s United Center.
With an end to their reign as champions looming in the not-too-distant future, the Kings are left to evaluate what on Earth went wrong for them in Thursday’s game, and how they are going to correct the mistakes with their series on the line.
For starters, the team was absolutely wretched on the power play in Game 4.
Their man-advantage game on home ice during the postseason had been stellar, but it was stopped dead in its tracks by a Chicago team that was missing one of its best penalty killers in Duncan Keith.
Even on the last power play of the game the Hawks were missing their best penalty killing forward in Michael Frolik, who was sitting in the box after committing a late infraction.
Despite these things working to the Kings’ advantage, they only managed ONE shot on three power plays in the game, and often times it looked like they could never quite figure out what set piece they wanted to use to try to break through the Hawks’ aggressive defense.
They were forced to swing the puck around the ice more often than not because of the zealous pursuit of guys like Michal Handzus and Marcus Kruger, and it never looked like they had a defined strategy in mind in Game 4.
In addition, the Kings also showed a lack of discipline in the third period. They only managed two shots in that frame because of their sloppy passing and terrible neutral zone play, and that was the least of their worries.
The team also nearly had to go without forward Dustin Penner, who not only high-sticked Hawks forward Patrick Kane (which went uncalled) but also hit Dave Bolland along the blue line and drew the ire of Hawks fans, and the attention of the league.
Penner was ultimately exonerated for the play by the NHL Department of Player Safety, but that STILL wasn’t the icing on the cake.
That came just seconds into the third period, when the Kings took a horrendously ill-advised line change and allowed the Hawks to enter the zone on a speedy 2-on-1 break. Hawks defenseman Johnny Oduya fired a gorgeous stretch pass all the way down the ice to a speeding Handzus, who then found a wide open Marian Hossa, who then proceeded to fire a gorgeous shot over the shoulder of goaltender
Jonathan Quick to give the Hawks a lead they would never relinquish.
All of these mistakes and gaffes combined to turn a potential Kings victory into a head-scratching loss, but the question now for Los Angeles is how well they can respond to such a poorly played third period.
They will need to be at their absolute best to defeat the Hawks on Chicago ice on Saturday, and if they can’t get their game plan locked down, then they are going to be going to be left standing on the bench and watching the Hawks avoid touching the Campbell Bowl after Game 5.