LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter was his usual self in the postgame news conference Monday after the Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
Sutter didn’t say much or elaborate on most of his answers, but he said all that needed to be said. That was particularly true when he was asked about special teams in the first period. The Kings scored two power-play goals, and the Blackhawks failed to score on two opportunities with the advantage.
“That’s clearly the difference in the game; first period is clearly special teams,” Sutter said. “I think there are four total, and that’s the difference.”
Special teams not only decided Game 4, they are also deciding the series. The Kings have won the past three games and taken a 3-1 series lead because of special teams. The Kings have scored five power-play goals on their past 10 power plays over the past three games -- a span during which the Blackhawks are 1-of-11. The Kings also scored a goal two seconds after a Chicago penalty expired in Game 3.
“How can it not be a [difference?]” Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. “The stats, you can just take a lot from looking at the numbers.”
The Blackhawks’ power-play numbers are nothing out of the ordinary. They have struggled on the power play for much of the past two seasons. They have eight goals on 46 power-play chances in the playoffs this season.
The Blackhawks were hopeful they could change their success rate in Game 4. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville tinkered with his power-play units beforehand, and it was an area of focus during practice Sunday.
The Kings gave the Blackhawks two quick power plays to test it out Monday, getting whistled for two penalties within the game’s first seven minutes. The Blackhawks accumulated one shot on net on the first one, and the second one came to an end 40 seconds in when Marian Hossa was whistled for goaltender interference.
The Kings didn’t waste much time making the Blackhawks pay. With the puck on the wall, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty found Jake Muzzin free in the middle of the ice. Muzzin had plenty of time and space in the far slot, and he drilled the puck past Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford.
“We’re rolling pretty good,” Muzzin said. “Our penalty kill was really good tonight, and [Jonathan Quick] made some big saves. We were able to gain some momentum off that and carry that into our power play. We jumped on them and got a quick power-play goal, and that got the ball rolling.”
The Blackhawks were again put on the penalty kill when Patrick Sharp was called for roughing later in the period. Again, the Kings found a way to get the puck into the net. The Kings diced up the Chicago penalty kill with quick passes, and Dustin Brown scored in front of the net.
“Well, they’re shooting the puck, and a couple of plays there, I thought maybe the first one we could have gone out to that guy coming down the gut, kind of comparable to the last game,” Quenneville explained of his team’s penalty-kill woes. “But they’re shooting and they’re going in. The third goal of the game, their second power play, we’ve got to be better than that.”
If doesn’t turn around soon, the Blackhawks might be eliminated due to their special teams.
“Our special teams all year have been a strength of our team,” Quenneville said. “The first two series, penalty killing might have been the reason why we won either series. Right now, they’re going against us, so we have to shore up that area. And our power play, our production’s been off a little bit. I think we’ve got to make sure whether we’re scoring or not, we’ve got to sustain and gather momentum when the power play’s out there.”