From the opening puck-drop at Staples Center on Monday night, Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals was never really in doubt.
The Los Angeles Kings outworked the Chicago Blackhawks from start to finish, jumping ahead with a three-goal first period en route to a 5-2 win to put the Kings one win away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three seasons.
If they can win Game 5 in Chicago on Wednesday night, the Kings will have avenged their Western Conference final loss to Chicago last season, and they’ll want production similar to what they received tonight.
With Marian Hossa serving a goaltender interference penalty, Jake Muzzin continued his coming-out party in the playoffs, firing a wristshot over Corey Crawford‘s shoulder to give the Kings a 1-0 lead nine minutes into the opening frame, the first time the Kings have scored first in the series.
Just over two minutes later, the Anze Kopitar-Marian Gaborik duo came up big once again, as Kopitar stole the puck from Duncan Keith, then found Gaborik in front for his NHL-best and career-high tenth goal of the playoffs (Gaborik’s previous career high was nine in the 2002-03 season with the Minnesota Wild) to extend the Los Angeles lead to two.
However, the Kings weren’t done there, as captain Dustin Brown scored the Kings’ second power-play goal of the period, converting a Justin Williams redirect from a Muzzin shot to put Los Angeles up 3-0 after 20 minutes despite having taken just six shots at the time.
Los Angeles tacked another one on the board late in the second, as Conn Smythe Trophy candidate Drew Doughty‘s shot from just inside the blue line had eyes as it floated past Crawford, though it looked like Dwight King may have gotten a stick on it to redirect it into the net.
Chicago finally got on the board just over a minute later, as Brandon Saad took a pass from Andrew Shaw and put a backhand just under the crossbar and over Jonathan Quick‘s shoulder to cut the Kings lead to 4-1 after 40 minutes.
The Blackhawks cut the lead to two midway through the third period, as a furious scramble in front of Quick resulted in Bryan Bickell burying an opportunity to make it 4-2 Kings. Of note, Patrick Kane drew an assist on the goal, his first point of the series.
However, the Kings were just too strong, and with Crawford out for an extra attacker, the newly-dubbed That 70’s Line applied pressure on the Blackhawks, resulting in Tanner Pearson finding the empty net for his third of the playoffs to seal it.
Quick wasn’t particularly busy, but he was solid when he needed to be, making 22 saves for the win while Crawford stopped just 16 shots.
The ball is in Chicago’s court now, and you can be sure the Madhouse on Madison will be rocking as the defending Stanley Cup champions look to send the series back to Los Angeles.