The Chicago Blackhawks looked poised to take a 2-0 series lead over the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference final with a 2-0 advantage late in the second period of Game 2.
Then, it all fell apart.
The defending Stanley Cup champions gave up six unanswered goals to lose Game 2, then lost the next two games at Staples Center by a combined score of 9-5 to move to the brink of elimination heading back to Chicago for Wednesday’s Game 5.
For the Blackhawks to avoid elimination against a Kings team full of confidence and championship experience, reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Kane must elevate his performance.
The 25-year-old winger tallied 10 points (six goals, four assists) over the first two rounds, but he’s posted just one assist and zero goals in four games against the Kings.
Los Angeles’ game plan is simple: take away Kane’s time and space and play physical with him whenever possible. It’s easier said than done, but the Kings’ mobile defensemen, specifically Drew Doughty, have the skating skill and defensive awareness to shut Kane down before he gets into the slot or another prime scoring position.
Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville tried to ignite Kane by putting him back with Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell on the team’s top line. This trio destroyed the Boston Bruins in the final three games of last year’s Stanley Cup Final, but in Game 4, Bickell was the only one who scored. The goal trimmed the Kings’ lead to 4-2 halfway through the final period, but by that time it was too late for a Hawks comeback.
An adjustment for Game 5 would be to give Kane the puck a lot more. He’s the type of player that excels with the puck on his stick and the option to take on opposing players for a scoring opportunity, or use his slick playmaking skills to create chances for linemates. Kane also needs to be more aggressive in the attacking zone. He hasn’t registered more than three shots on goal in any game against the Kings. Just two of his shot attempts hit the net in 21:55 of ice time in Game 4.
One of the reasons for Chicago’s lack of power-play success in this series has been Kane’s inability to create scoring chances (zero points with the man advantage). The Kings are doing a great job of clogging the shooting lanes and using active sticks to block passing lanes, which has resulted in Chicago going 1-for-11 with the extra skater in the last three games. The Blackhawks must capitalize on their power-play chances because the Kings have a better goal differential and corsi-for percentage (puck-possession stat) at even strength.
Kane helped turn the tide in Chicago’s favor against the Bruins with two goals in Game 5 of last season’s Cup Final. That’s the performance the Blackhawks need to keep their dreams of a repeat alive against an opponent playing its best hockey of the season right now.
It’s time for “showtime” Kane to take center stage.
Advanced stats courtesy of Extra Skater.
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