Needless to say, it has been an interesting 48 hours for the Los Angeles Kings.
Tops on the list of the reasons why was the fact that they won Game 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 3-1. The win ran their home winning streak to 15 games, and also closed the gap that they face in the best-of-seven series to a much more manageable 2-1 deficit.
In addition to that bit of good news, the team also had to contend with the injury that center Jeff Carter sustained when he took a high stick to the face from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith. After 20 stitches and several cracked teeth, Carter did come back and finish the game, and he ultimately had the last laugh when Keith was suspended for a game because of the incident.
The news got a bit more positive on Wednesday as well, when Kings forward Tyler Toffoli was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated along with Chicago forward Marcus Kruger. Granted, the picture itself wasn’t particularly flattering, as Toffoli was being leveled with a check in the image, but the youngster took it in stride:
Finally, Thursday came and took a little bit of wind out of the team’s sails. Mike Richards, who has missed the last two games with an upper-body injury (although head coach Darryl Sutter did mention concussion protocol in his media availability Thursday, meaning that we can safely assume that’s the injury Richards is dealing with), will also miss Game 4 of the series with the same injury.
Now, with all of that being said, the Kings have a real opportunity Thursday. Not only will they have the home crowd on their side, but they will also have a chance to tie their series up with the Hawks, and to do so against a team that has lost its best defenseman could be a huge boost to those chances.
There are several things that are going to have to go right for the Kings in order to accomplish that, however. The first and most prominent among them is that they are going to need to play the same way that they did in the first two periods of Game 3 in order to have a chance.
Those periods saw not only the dominant offensive zone possession time that they displayed for a good chunk of Game 2, but also saw them tighten up significantly on the defensive side of the puck. They were much more aggressive in attacking the Hawks’ puck carriers, especially on the forecheck in the neutral zone, and they really disrupted the flow of Chicago’s offense as a result.
Even when the Hawks were able to break through that pressure (and it wasn’t often in the first two periods), the Kings also did a good job of once again forcing the Hawks off onto the wings instead of giving them free reign over the middle of the ice.
That all changed in the third period, however. Several Hawks, including Patrick Kane, had great opportunities in the slot, and came very close to tying the game on several occasions. The Kings also backed off on their aggressiveness a bit in that frame despite being only up one goal, and as a result they played for much of the period on their heels.
Obviously, that can’t happen again in Game 3, because the Kings may not get so lucky in terms of holding onto their lead.
In addition to keeping up the defensive pressure throughout the hockey game, the Kings are going to have to be able to take advantage of Chicago’s mistakes. That seems like an obvious statement, but it has an even more urgent ring to it now. With the Hawks likely having to shuffle up defensive pairings early and often in order to make up for the loss of Keith on the back end, the Kings will have an excellent opportunity to catch the Hawks in bad line changes or in missed defensive assignments.
That is where the speed of guys like Toffoli and Justin Williams is going to come in handy for this team. If they can spot ill-advised pinches and pop the puck up the boards like the Red Wings were able to do against the Hawks in Game 2 of their second round series, then it could be a long night for the President’s Trophy winners.
Ultimately, even with all of the distractions on the Chicago side of things, the Kings are the team that is under more pressure going into Game 4. Yes, they have the lengthy home winning streak to ride, but the fact is that they have been patently unable to win on the road during these playoffs, and losing a game on home ice would prove disastrous.
With that in mind, the Kings need to try to focus on the positive aspects of their Game 3 performance, and if they can replicate that performance, then they have a great chance to tie this series up and send the Hawks reeling back to Chicago.