Keep it going. That’s the focus of the Chicago Blackhawks going into Game 3 at the Staples Center Tuesday night with a cool 2 – 0 series lead against the Los Angeles Kings.
Nobody would have called Jonathon Quick, the man commonly referred to as a “machine,” to be pulled in Game 2 – much less be pulled before the game was halfway over – but it happened. He allowed four goals including a Power Play goal and looked downright sluggish as he failed to stop several glove-side saves. Critics on both sides of the argument are saying everything from, “he’s been so good that he is allowed an off night,” to “Chicago has figured him out and they have his number.” Head Coach Joel Quenneville knows how important it is to treat the situation as if Quick never missed a beat in Game 2.
“I still think he’s a special goalie,” said Quenneville after Game 2. “I still think that’s going to be an ongoing challenge with him.”
As reserved as Quenneville is about Quick, Chicago’s third line still looks to crack the whip on him in Game 3. Through two games, Chicago’s third line has combined for 5 points against LA. This line has been effective all throughout the season, and the play of Bryan has earned him the opportunity to play on Chicago’s top line alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Through 14 games, Bickell has scored 6 goals for the Hawks and has been a key aspect of Chicago’s postseason success.
Chicago’s defense has been special as well, frustrating LA’s top skaters like Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter. The only number on Brown’s stat sheet is 1 registered shot on-goal in the series thus far. Compare that to his 4 points (3G, 1A) and plus 5 plus/minus rating in the previous series and he looks positively lackluster. This is largely due to Chicago’s shot-blocking ability – Niklas Hjalmarsson blocked four shots and Brent Seabrook blocked 3 shots in Game 2. The two, who skate on different defensive lines, have combined for 39 blocked shots in the postseason. Add that the Johnny Oduya’s 25 and Duncan Keith’s 18 and you’ve got a stifling defense.
But the ability to force takeaways has allowed for Chicago to control the pace of the first two games in this series. Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa have 12 and 13 takeaways, respectively, in the postseason thus far. Still, it may not be so easy to take out LA at the Staples Center Tuesday night for Chicago.
The LA Kings have not lost at home in the postseason, going a perfect 7 – 0 through the first two series. While Games 1 and 2 may have looked promising for Chicago, LA’s road record going into Chicago was 1 – 5 in the postseason. The Staples Center is as daunting for a visiting team as the United Center, and Quenneville admitted that on Sunday night.
“It’s going to be a hostile environment,” said Quenneville. “It’s going to be very important that we’re proactive in our game.”
So far, Chicago has done just about everything right and will need to continue to focus on that style of play if they want to win Game 3. A high-pace game will allow Chicago to dictate the pace and silencing the LA crowd will be key in putting a stranglehold on the Kings in the Conference Finals.
The LA Kings have not indicated whether or not Mike Richards, who missed Game 2, will play Tuesday night at the Staples Center. He is the Kings’ leading postseason scorer with 10 points (2G, 8A) and did not miss a single game in the shortened regular season. Chicago has no players listed as injured for Game 3.