Entering Game 2 on Wednesday night in Chicago, the Los Angeles Kings had lost 10 out of their last 12 games against the Blackhawks. In fact, given how poorly the Kings had played overall during those 12 games, it would have been fair to say that the Blackhawks just simply had the Kings’ number. For about the first 38 minutes of Game 2, that dominance didn’t appear to be anywhere close to being ended. Yet somehow, trailing 2-0, the Kings went on to score six unanswered goals and stunned the Blackhawks to tie the series 1-1. Not only had the Blackhawks been 7-0 at home during the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs entering Game 2, but they had won 18 of 20 games at home overall.
During that seven-game home winning streak, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford had a 1.25 goals against average and .957 save%. On the road, however, Chicago is 2-4, and Crawford has a 2.57 goals against average and .907 save%–not bad numbers, by any stretch, but clearly not close to the elite numbers posted at home. Entering Game 2, Chicago had converted 33% of power plays at home, but only 5.9% on the road–a HUGE disparity in conversion rates. In Game 2, Chicago was one for four. As we pointed out in our series preview, the Kings were able to neutralize the Blackhawks’ power play in last season’s playoff series, but through two games, Chicago is now two for six–a gaudy 33.3% conversion rate–consistent with their conversion rate at home through this season’s playoff run.
The Kings, on the other hand, have converted 24.1% of their power plays overall during this season’s playoff run, and have also converted two out of six power plays through the first two games of this series. During their last two playoff runs (in 2012 and 2013), the Kings hadn’t been able to use the power play as much of a weapon, and while it obviously didn’t cost them during their 2012 Stanley Cup run, they could have used the additional offensive firepower last season. With the addition of Marian Gaborik, the leadership of Anze Kopitar, and the emergence of Tyler Toffoli, however, the Kings have scored 3.25 goals per game during their 2014 playoff run–the HIGHEST goals per game average of any team in the playoffs. Jeff Carter’s hat trick in Game 2 definitely helped increase that number.
With that much-needed road win out of the way, the Kings now return to Staples Center to try and gain control of this series in Games 3 and 4. The Kings were never able to take a lead in last season’s playoff series against the Blackhawks, and while Chicago is a veteran, Stanley Cup winning team, the Kings would do well to put some pressure on the Blackhawks by forcing them to play from behind in the series. Willie Mitchell’s return from injury has stabilized the Kings’ blue line, but the Kings still had a few defensive miscues in Game 2, and that cost them two goals. In Games 3 and 4, the Kings need to focus on eliminating turnovers in the neutral zone, and keeping the Blackhawks on the outside as much as possible so that Jonathan Quick can be his usual, dominant self in net. If the Kings can manage to grind out two wins at home, the series might just be theirs for the taking.