They withstood early troubles, and then poured it on late.
What was a concerning start for the Kings Wednesday night turned into a game they took complete control of, riding the momentum of a late second period goal to propel them to a 6-2 victory at United Center.
Six unanswered goals, one huge win.
“I think this is a huge game for our approach, our psyche,” Dustin Brown told reporters following the game. “Kind of like slaying the mythical dragon.”
The Kings, who handed Chicago their first playoff loss on home ice this season, also snagged their first-ever playoff victory in the Windy City. Prior to Wednesday, the Kings were 0-7 all-time against the Blackhawks on the road in playoff games, dating back to 1974.
The Kings’ night, however, began in shambles. They took four penalties in the opening period, holding Darryl Sutter back from rolling four lines evenly, which forced extra work for both the defense and Jonathan Quick early on.
They maintained Chicago’s early attack, and escaped the first period only down 1-0 on Nick Leddy’s goal, a play where the Kings were caught pinching while killing a penalty.
Chicago tacked on another goal less than two minutes into the second, when Ben Smith caught a stretch pass behind Kings’ defensemen during a botched line change, walking in alone on Jonathan Quick, giving the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead.
Down 2-0 early in the second, the Kings were desperate to claw back before Chicago could extend the deficit.
Little by little, the Kings slowed the game down, playing a more conservative defensive game, limiting the Blackhawks’ odd-man rushes, knowing they were just one shot away from finding themselves back in the game.
With time winding down in the second, Justin Williams got the Kings on the board, using nothing but outstanding positioning and grit as Mike Richards’ pass deflected off his skate and past Corey Crawford to cut the score to 2-1 with 1:46 to play in the middle frame.
For the first time all evening, the Kings looked to have regained some of their confidence.
“We were determined to come out and dominate the third period,” Drew Doughty told reporters following the game. “And I believe we did a good job at that.”
Just how the Kings dug themselves deep with penalties in the first period, the Blackhawks found themselves in penalty trouble early in the third, opportunities the Kings pounced on to take their first lead of the series.
Soon thereafter, the Blackhawks took another penalty, and this time it was Jake Muzzin on the spot. As the Kings were moving the puck around the perimeter, Muzzin quickly faked a pass to his right, then turned and fired a laser to the top left corner past Corey Crawford to give the Kings a 3-2 lead with 15:56 left to play.
Tyler Toffoli added a fourth goal for the Kings, following up on a play that many Blackhawks players gave up on, thinking the puck had ricochet off the netting above the glass.
Toffoli, who saw an ill-defended crease, walked right in while Tanner Pearson fed him a gorgeous pass from behind Chicago’s net, slamming home his fifth goal of the postseason to give the Kings a 4-2 lead with 11:01 to play.
Toffoli, now with 10 career games against the Blackhawks under his belt, both in the regular season and playoffs, has an astounding nine points (5G, 4A) when facing Chicago.
Jeff Carter added two more goals for the Kings, beating Corey Crawford on a 2-on-1, and potting an empty net tally to notch a hat trick, giving the Kings a 6-2 lead.
Carter also assisted on Toffoli’s goal, and racked up a total of four points (3G, 1A) in the third period alone. Carter’s third period outburst tied an NHL record for points in a single playoff period; Tyler Seguin last achieved the feat in 2011.
Carter’s hat trick is the second of his career in the playoffs. His other came in Game 2 of a Western Conference Finals series as well, when he tallied three on May 15, 2012 in Phoenix.
Jonathan Quick was challenged early and often but stood his ground, and kept the Kings within striking distance throughout the evening. Quick stopped 23 of Chicago’s 25 shots, and the Kings’ defense was of great help blocking 17 shots.
The Kings will now return to Los Angeles, where this series will shift to for Game 3 and 4. Game 3 is to be played Saturday evening at STAPLES Center, slated for an earlier than usual 5:00 PM PST start.