Just Do One Thing Right

Will this be a duel of goalies? The Kings and Blackhawks thus far have traded goal for goal, with a total of 20 for LA and 15 for Chicago coming into Friday night’s game six. Some concluded on that basis that things would be entirely the opposite, the vision perhaps lingering still of Montreal and New York playing to a 1-0 finish the evening prior.

But then there was the threat. Just that—the danger that the Hawks would continue their offensive ways of game five. That was the classic case of danger not appearing where you think it will. Everyone on the LA squad before game four in LA was saying that the goal was to limit Patrick Kane. The old “don’t give him time and space” to wind up and get going. He’s a dipsy doodler, after all.

And they had him worried, his comments after game four reflecting the fact that the Kings had shut him down, and his demeanor as he talked—his gaze not held high—suggesting his concern. But in a page right out of The Art of War, in game five, the enemy turned out not to be Kane at all, but Brandon Saad, who, on a line with Kane and Andrew Shaw, exploded in Chicago. But his explosion sparked others to thrive.

Kane had four assists. Shaw had two. And Saad had a goal and two assists. Where’d the rest of the scoring come from? Of the five goals, aside from Saad’s and the OT winner by Handzus, the others came from Oduya, Smith, and Seabrook. Two of those players, obviously, are defensemen.

So one theory coming into Friday night was that the two teams had done their exploding and that a thin margin of a goal would decide game six, one way or the other. It might even replicate the game 24 hours earlier in the Big Apple.

That assumed two things. One, that Sutter would find a way to shut down Kane and the boys. He’s said that he doesn’t line match, but Wednesday, the group most victimized by the Kane group was the fourth line, Richards along with Clifford and Lewis. At home, he would figure to be trying to get those guys facing someone else. But who would face Kane and company?

The other assumption was that the Kings would be able to get that goal that would make the margin swing in their favor. They’ve had magic lots of times this playoff year, with the name “Gaborik” being the one that comes to mind along with Carter and Kopitar in terms of scoring.

Those guys just needed one big game.

The way things unfolded, Chicago was out to end it in the first three minutes. Before 2:20 had elapsed, the line of Kane, Shaw, and Saad had played three shifts. That wasn’t all. Kane was double shifted at least twice, with Sharp and Handzus being his other linemates. He played nearly eight minutes of the period. No other forward played over seven minutes.

The other strategy used by the Hawks was to turn Hossa loose. He was visible around mid-period on his line with Toews and Bryan Bickell. But Toews was also being worked hard in the first, appearing in addition with Kruger and Bollig.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense, given that the other two aside from the captain on that line played about three and a half minutes apiece, until you realize that they were assigned to contain the Kings’ “70s line”—Carter, Toffoli, and Pearson. That line had been raging in mid-period, and they ended the frame with five of LA’s eight shots. So maybe the notion was to give the checkers some help or to counterbalance the threat presented by Carter and company, maybe get them thinking a little bit about their need to go two ways.

And if you enjoyed all of that detailed analysis, then here’s something else for you: in the end, it meant nothing that any of this happened, because the Kings got a goal from an unlikely source, Dwight King. He has just two in the playoffs to this point. And here’s an indication of the kind of player he is: he burst in on a partial breakaway early in the frame and ended up on one knee, forcing a puck up over the net. Nice idea, not enough skill.

So here he was again with Kane, Handzus, and Sharp on the ice. They got stuck up-ice, and Williams dumped it into the Chicago zone. Stoll went behind the net and grabbed, and there’s big King. He gets the pass, returns it to the net, gets it past Crawford, and you’ve got a goal from an unlikely source scored in the most classic fashion. Hardworking. Bang-bang passing. And the Chicago team nowhere near the front of the net.

In fact, if there was one thing that became more glaringly obvious as the game went on from that period to the next, it was that the Hawks just don’t have as much strength on defense as they’re often credited for. Now, the Kings are a quicker team than they were, but not quick enough to be behind Chicago as much as they were doing.

But that wouldn’t matter so much after the Kings came out and got a penalty at eleven seconds of period two, then saw the Hawks score on that and a play just after to steal away the 1-0 lead and make it 2-1. The goals came within the first three minutes of the period.

It might have gotten away from the Kings, but the game retained its back and forth flow when each goalie made a save worth remembering. For Quick, it was on a two-on-none with Kruger passing over to Sharp, who fired a one-timer that Quick had to launch his whole body right to left to get a piece of. It went up over the net.

Just after that, the 70s line saw Carter pass out to Toffoli in the low slot. It was a goal. But it wasn’t, because Crawford got his blocker on it. Classic. The Kings were all over the offensive zone in this, the last seven or eight minutes of the period. They got a power play when Gaborik was dragged down, and their best chance was Martinez trying for a stuff but Oduya getting over. Crawford was nowhere close, with half the net open to his lefthand side.

The period concluded with Quick getting knocked over and he and Corey Crawford having words at center after the ensuing scrum. Crawford shook his gloves like he was ready to “go” but the referee in between the two of them (ref, not linesman) was quick to send Crawford off to his bench and escort Quick the rest of the way to his.

Period three saw each team score twice. Sounds pretty boring on paper, but each got two in a row. That began with Los Angeles, who found themselves up 3-2 with about half the period to go. It looked like Chicago was done, because both goals were based on mistakes. The first was a failed clear that Drew Doughty wheeled around in the zone with the puck, twice, and took a shot with Richards in front. Directly after that, the Blackhawks took a penalty, Toews no less, and the Kings scored again.

It was looking to be over. But then Kane got involved.

Now the one thing the Kings knew they had to do was shut that guy down. They’d done it early in the series, not in game five, and heck, even early in game six. So how do you explain that he assisted on the tying goal with about eight left and then scored the winner with four minutes to play?

The Kings just let him get away. Or to say it more bluntly: they didn’t do the very thing they said they would. After the game, he described his winner in simple terms: “I think Hjalmarsson made a great play at the red line, had a good stick, and he picked it up the side. Saad drove the zone with speed and dropped it to me, and I didn’t really see anything off the rush, so I took it up at the blueline and tried to get a shot through. I think Shaw was in front doing a great job giving a good screen. Luckily enough, it went in.”

But the truth was, it was much more spectacular than that. He got the puck at the right hash marks and whirled with it across an umbrella at the top of the zone, moved in on the parabola, and snapped a wrist shot so fast even most NHL goalies wouldn’t have known it was coming. He put it right through a defenseman’s legs, so it’s unlikely Quick saw it all the way in. The whipping action on the stick was compact, which is what created the speed on the release and the shot.

Talking to a former NHLer after the game, I was reminded that the way this works is that Chicago activates their defense in this situation. They can’t be on the blueline when Kane goes across there or they’d be in his way. So they move in, getting the LA players to collapse with them. Kane has a place to move through, and the shot does the rest.

“He doesn’t do anything in the game and then he comes out in the third period and makes two plays that get them the win.” That was Drew Doughty’s take on the play of Kane. What he can’t say is that he wasn’t warned. He was not, however, on the ice for the last goal. That was Voynov and Mitchell on defense.

Kane was not making a rejoinder when he said the following, though it might look that way: “There is still not much room out there. This team have great defensive ability, and right now I think you’ve got to take advantage of your opportunities when you do get space.”

His coach, Joel Quenneville, labeled him a “special player” and said, “when there’s a challenge, he welcomes the challenge, and he can get it done. As good as anybody in the game.” He later added, “Top players, they want to win. They challenge one another.”

Sunday night, both teams do it again. They’re evenly matched, as both coaches said.

Notes

Game seven is perfect—the Kings have done things the hard way this whole playoff season.

The Kings are 6-4 all-time in game 7s. They are 4-3 on the road. As a team, they are 70-7 in game 7s.

The Kings have never gone to OT in game 7.

I’m on twitter @growinguphockey

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