Blackhawks Clip Kings' Reign at Home; Take Command of Series
If change was the theme in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup's Western Conference final series -- and it was -- then the story line was The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
- The Good: Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville's decision to switch Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa in their line assignments.
- The Bad: Sheldon Brookbank replacing the suspended Duncan Keith in Chicago's top defensive pairing.
- The Ugly: What was Robyn Regehr thinking?
These were the key elements in Chicago snapping the Los Angeles Kings' 15-game home playoff winning streak with a 3-2 victory that puts the defending Cup holder's quest to retain the trophy on life support. The Blackhawks now have a 3-1 series lead and are heading home for Game 5 on Saturday night.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter has a no-nonsense approach to the game that is reflected in his strong-forecheck system that demands defensive accountability. It's suited Los Angeles well and figured prominently in their rise from an eighth seed last season to claiming the first Stanley Cup in francise history. The Kings are still offensively deficient, and Sutter's strategy is to force an extra turnover or two during the course of a game to steal an advantage before the opponent's defense can get set.
This is one reason why Los Angeles has been so successful at home under his direction. Their bench is adjacent to the Kings' own end in the third period, facilitating changes when the game is on the line.
Perhaps this cozy arrangement let the usually stalward Regehr into a false sense of security.
With the score at 2-2, Los Angeles was preparing to cruise into the Blackhawks' end. Sutter prefers a dump-and-chase, but in this instance, the Kings were attempting to head-man the puck to Brad Richardson at the Chicago blue line when he was ambushed by three Blackhawks. Regehr, on the far side of the ice, didn't notice the turnover and skated toward the bench for a change. Chicago's Johnny Oduya alertly noticed this a fired a pass to Michal Handzus, who had skated into the vacancy created by Regehr's absence. Marian Hossa immeditely jumped into the play, and the 2-on-1 was on.
Hossa is a brilliant playmaker, and he slid a perfect pass across to Hossa, whose crosshair-accurate one-timer easily beat Jonathan Quick, and the Blackhawks had their first lead of the game. It stood, and that was that.
Quenneville's decision to shake up his top two lines paid dividends, as Kane notched a goal among seven strong shots and Hossa's third-period strike sealed the deal. He wasn't so lucky with Brookbank's insertion, as even the underappreciated Niklas Hjälmarsson couldn't totally cover for his new d-partner all the time. A poorly-chosen pinch by Brookbank led to the first goal of the game when Slava Voyov was the recipient of strong puck rotation to hammer home a shot from the high slot. Later, Brookbank was simply overpowered by Dustin Penner down low.
However, Chicago's scouting report on Quick continued to pay dividends. Crowding the crease and shooting stick-side was getting the job done all series, and it worked again in Game 4. This has allowed the 6-4, 233lb Bickell to fluorish with three goals and two assists against Los Angeles, and Hossa's game-winner spoke for itself.
The Kings are 1-7 on the road during these playoffs, and now they must fight for their Cup-holding lives in raucous Chicago Stadium, where the Chelsea Daggers will be out in force, prepared to deliver the unkindest cuts of all.