For the Kings, it means allowing the Blackhawks -- the defending Stanley Cup champions -- home-ice advantage again and going back to Chicago with the series tied 2-2. The Blackhawks do have a history of excelling late in a series in recent seasons.
“It’s a must-win for us,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said prior to Monday night's Game 4. “This game is very important. If we lose this game tonight, it puts them right back in the series and gives them a bit of momentum. If we win we’re going back to Chicago up 3-1, and that’s the place we want to be. Tonight is a must-win. If we want to win this series, I think we have to win this game.”
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews also described Game 4 as a must-win, but for different reasons. Teams don’t often come back from 3-1 deficits. It’s happened 24 times since the NHL expanded all rounds to best-of-seven series in 1987. The Blackhawks accomplished that feat last season against the Detroit Red Wings.
“We go into every game trying to convince ourselves it's a must-win, in this situation especially,” Toews said Monday. “Like I said yesterday, it's pretty obvious we have motivation to win this game. It's right there in front of us. We know it's a must-win. When you play in a game like this, you don't need anything else. You don't need any inspiration. Guys will be ready to play.”
The Blackhawks are aiming to put together a full game Monday. They held second-period leads in Games 2 and 3 and couldn’t close out the Kings. The Kings outscored the Blackhawks 5-0 in the third period in Game 2 and 2-1 over the final 28 minutes of Game 3.
“We want to have that complete effort,” Toews said. “Just about sustaining that energy, that speed that we can bring with four lines, making sure we're changing well, that we're not overextending our shifts, that we're not taking unnecessary penalties.
“Whenever we have that momentum, whether it's from killing a big penalty, having a big power play where we generate a bunch of chances, we have to keep that going. Everyone has to realize when there are five guys out on the ice playing well, they need to follow it up the next shift and keep it going. That's definitely something we'll focus on tonight.”
The Blackhawks haven’t fared well on the road early in the past 10 series, losing the road opener in each. But they have excelled as the series have gone on. Chicago is 10-4 in Games 4 through 7 on the road during that same span.
Toews thought there were reasons for that.
“Maybe kind of understanding our opponent a little bit better,” Toews said. “But us knowing we have to raise our game every single game as we go throughout a series, as the stakes get higher, we're getting to the point now where it's time to do that.
“There's never a doubt in our minds [we can do that again]. We made it this far. We don't want to stop now. We want to keep working, improving like we've done in the postseason in previous years. There's that potential there. There's that belief there that we're that type of team and we have that ability. We don't want to pass up any opportunities.”