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Blackhawks On Verge Of An Early Summer Vacation

By Chuck Sudo in News on May 27, 2014 2:00PM

If the Chicago Blackhawks still have aspirations for back-to-back Stanley Cup championships they need to hike up the proverbial bootstraps and start skating shift for shift, line for line, with the Los Angeles Kings. The Hawks find themselves in a 3-1 hole in these Western Conference Finals after a 5-2 loss to the Kings Monday night at the Staples Center and they’ve been thoroughly outclassed and out-skated as the Kings improved depth has proven to be the x-factor in this series so far.

That depth will prove formidable. The Blackhawks have faced a 3-1 deficit in the playoffs before but the Kings are not last year’s Detroit Red Wings. They’re skating four lines deep with speed, physicality and lapping the Hawks on both ends of the ice. How deep are the Kings? Mike Richards is their fourth line center and Jeff Carter, centering the second line, is arguably the MVP of this series after goalie Jonathan Quick.

The Kings have been dictating the pace of the play between the two teams since the third period of Game 2 and Monday was no different. Jake Muzzin put Los Angeles on the board first with a power play goal nine minutes into the first period. A goal by Marian Gaborik and another power play goal by Dustin Brown made the score 3-0 heading into the second period.

Drew Doughty’s wrist shot at the 12:43 mark increased the LA lead to 4-0 and had Blackhawks fans across the city cursing their television screens and wondering what the Hawks needed to do to score a goal as Quick was firmly settled between the pipes with the Kings defense running interference in front of him. Brandon Saad finally put Chicago on the board at the 14:03 mark of the second period with a backhand. In the third period Bryan Bickell cut the Kings’ lead to two with a backhand, assisted by Jonathan Toews and the largely absent Patrick Kane. But Carter, who has killed the Hawks all series, added an empty net goal with 1:02 remaining for the final score.

The tale of the tape in this game, and the series, has been the Kings ability to beat the Hawks at their own game while dictating the physicality on the ice. Los Angeles held a 24-21 advantage in shots on goal in Game 4 but they’re handily beating Chicago on faceoffs (33-24), blocked shots (23-12) and takeaways (4-1). The dominant play by the Kings has the Blackhawks getting out of their puck possession system and playing a more physical game, which plays right into the Kings’ hands. The Hawks getting only one shot off on their first power play of the game doesn’t help matters, nor does the invisibility and poor play of Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith, who had a turnover that led to a Los Angeles score.

In order for the Blackhawks to get to Quick they need to solve the riddle of the Kings players in front of him. Quick has been stellar in this series but the blocked shots by his teammates have been even more invaluable. Kane and other Blackhawks players were pointing the fingers at themselves after the game.

"I think coming into this series you'd be lying if we thought we'd be in this position, but it happens, and we've got no one to blame but ourselves. We're the only ones that are going to get ourselves out of it, so might as well start with Game 5 in Chicago."

Ah, yes. Game 5, aka “gut check time” for the Blackhawks, is 7 p.m. Wednesday at the United Center.