LA Kings stumble home to host surging Blackhawks
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Kings have been in all types of jams during the past two postseasons. Just a few weeks ago, they even escaped the same 0-2 deficit they’re now facing in the Western Conference finals.
“We’ve been here, what, three weeks ago?” forward Justin Williams asked, referring to the Kings’ great escape in the first round against St. Louis. “Obviously it’s not do-or-die (in Game 3), but it is.”
Yet the defending Stanley Cup champions aren’t sure they’ve tangled with an opponent that could match the depth and versatility of the Chicago Blackhawks, who might even be the team to end Los Angeles’ 2½-month run of dominance at home.
After back-to-back losses in Chicago, the Kings are hoping they can stay perfect at Staples Center in a crucial Game 3 on Tuesday night. The Kings have won 14 straight at home since March, and they’ve won seven straight home playoff games dating to last season’s Stanley Cup clincher.
The Kings have no idea why they’ve been unbeatable at Staples Center, but they realize their repeat hopes depend on it.
“Home ice is something we’ve been able to rely on, and have in our back pocket,” Williams said Monday after the Kings’ team meeting at their training complex. “I’m (also) not sure why we went 10-1 on the road last year (in the playoffs). Certainly our confidence is high for us coming back home. There’s been a lot of success there. We’ve won every which way there, and it’s going to have to continue.”
Even two solid efforts in Chicago by coach Darryl Sutter’s estimation weren’t enough to turn back the Presidents’ Trophy winners, who chased Jonathan Quick out of Game 2 by scoring four goals against the Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goalie — something nobody had done in 34 straight playoff games over the past three years.
But Quick still isn’t the problem for the Kings, who have won a series after trailing 0-2 just twice in franchise history. Williams realizes the Kings aren’t sustaining any offensive pressure on the Blackhawks, whose forechecking has kept the Kings pinned in their end for long stretches.
“It’s nice taking both at home, especially given how well they’ve been playing at home back in L.A.,” Chicago’s Patrick Kane said. “We’ve still got our work cut out for us against this team. They’re going to be good in their own building, but it’s nice to get a day off, then get back at it.”
Los Angeles’ scoring struggles are getting ugly, with just 29 goals in 15 playoff games — easily the lowest scoring average for any team that won a playoff round. It’s not nearly enough to hang with the Blackhawks, whose talented lineup generates goals from all four lines and its defense.
The Kings have never been an offensive dynamo, but they didn’t struggle like this in the regular season. Their top scorers in last season’s playoffs also are struggling mightily this year: Star center Anze Kopitar has just two goals in 15 games after enduring a lengthy goal-scoring slump to end the regular season, while captain Dustin Brown has a mere four points in the playoffs.
“It’s pretty fair to say as a line, we’re collectively in a slump,” Brown said of his partnership with Kopitar and Williams. “We know what we need to do better.”
Center Mike Richards missed Game 2 with symptoms from an apparent head injury, and the Kings don’t know if he’ll play in Game 3. Richards, who hadn’t missed a game all season, is Los Angeles’ leading postseason scorer with 10 points.
At least Tyler Toffoli is an intriguing addition to the lineup in Richards’ absence. The big rookie picked up a goal in Game 2 while playing alongside top goal-scorer Jeff Carter, who moved over to center without Richards alongside him.
“Going back to six games left in the regular season, we’ve had trouble scoring,” Sutter said. “It’s not a home-road disparity at all. We’re trying to surprise the team that finished first overall. … We’re not a team that gets ahead of ourselves or down on ourselves or up on ourselves. Doesn’t matter if we’re down two (games) or up two. The other team knows what they’re going to get.”
The Kings’ championship poise might be their greatest asset in the next two games. With the confidence of last season’s 16-4 run through the playoffs still fresh in most players’ minds, Sutter’s club doesn’t really get rattled — even after winning just twice in its last seven playoff games.
“You can draw on the fact we’ve been in this situation before,” Brown said. “The series is long from over in our mindset.”