The Chicago Blackhawks dropped Game 2 to a bad third period. They lost Game 3 because of a bad second period. In Game 4, they completed the set, losing 5-2 thanks to a truly terrible first.
The good news: there are no other periods in which to be bad. (Although if Game 5 goes to overtime, I'd be worried.)
This game fell apart early, as the Kings opened the scoring at 9:00 of the first period thanks to Jake Muzzin, who contributed two big plays to the game's first goal. First, Muzzin bumped into Marian Hossa coming across the LA crease during a Blackhawks' powerplay, causing the Chicago winger to collide with Jonathan Quick.
Quick went down; Hossa went to the box.
On the ensuing LA powerplay, Muzzin completed the momentum shift, taking a pass at the top of the zone from Drew Doughty and walking right down main street before beating Corey Crawford high to the glove side.
Before the Blackhawks could regroup, the Kings did what they've done in the last two games, striking again in short order. Just two minutes later, the Selke-nominated Anze Kopitar pressured Duncan Keith into a turnover before feeding Marian Gaborik in front for a redirection.
Things went from bad to worse when Dustin Brown added another with just four minutes remaining in the opening frame, finishing off a tic-tac-toe play after Muzzin found Justin Williams cutting through the slot, and Williams tipped the puck across the crease to the Kings captain.
Corey Crawford couldn't follow that, and the first period ended 3-0 on just eight LA Kings shots -- shades of their two-goal, four-shot second period in Game 3.
And things went from worse to, well, worst when Drew Doughty made it 4-0, sneaking a point shot through traffic and Crawford at 12:43 of the second. The Blackhawks got that one back immediately, however, as Brandon Saad responded for Chicago just 80 seconds later.
But that was all the offence Chicago could muster, and they headed to the intermission trailing by three, just as they had twenty minutes earlier.
Midway through the third, Bryan Bickell cut the lead in half, scoring on a second attempt after Jonathan Quick made a brilliant save on Jonathan Toews.
But they wouldn't get any closer. The Kings wouldn't allow it, playing suffocating defence throughout, limiting the Blackhawks to under 10 shots in every period -- remarkable, since Chicago spent most of this game playing from behind.
The Kings would restore the three-goal lead with Tanner Pearson's empty-netter late in the game.
And now and there's no room for error, as Chicago finds themselves one loss away from kissing their dream of repeating as Stanley Cup champions goodbye.
If they need inspiration, they need only look to their opponents, the Kings, who have been on the brink of elimination in both rounds leading up to this series, but never quit. Mind you, it might be tough to draw inspiration from knowing your opponent refuses to lose when you need them to do that three consecutive times to make the Stanley Cup Final.
You wonder if the Blackhawks even have the juice to push this to a Game 6. The Kings right now look like the
On the bright side, the Blackhawks are going home, where they tend to have more success, and two of the next three, if there are three, and now there must be, will be there. Game 5 goes Wednesday at the United Center.
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