With a 4-3 victory on Saturday night, the Los Angeles Kings won their second straight game to take a 2-1 series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final. The Kings are firmly in the drivers seat now, and over the past two games have essentially bashed in the Blackhawks' heads and feasted on the delicious goo inside.
Kings forward Jeff Carter, and linemates Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson; powered the Kings to victory on Saturday night (and in Game 2, for that matter). With that dynamic forward group on the ice in Games 2 and 3, Los Angeles has outscored the Blackhawks 4-1, which is pretty much the difference in this series so far.
Toffoli and Pearson are both former high picks (top-60), and their emergence as difference makers while handling top-six roles is a testament to Los Angeles' drafting. If L.A. can eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champions - and they're only half way there, which we'd do well to remember - GM Dean Lombardi's work at the draft table will be a major reason why.
Patrick Kane is essentially the most electrifying, clutch, exciting player of the past five years, no doubt about it. He's also had two really rough outings in a row, and his team could be on the brink with another loss on Monday night. In Games 2 and 3, with Kane on the ice at even-strength, Chicago has been outscored by three goals and has been outshot 12-18. Kane's line was particularly hapless in Game 3 on Saturday night, when the Blackhawks allowed 14 shots against (and two goals) when he was on the ice at evens. Considering that the team allowed only 23 even-strength shots in total, that's a brutal performance.
Kane has a history of scoring "big clutch goals" and has multiple Stanley Cup victories to his name, but his performance, and the performance of his line, in Games 2 and 3 of the 2014 Western Conference Final is a huge problem for Chicago. That group is just getting taken to school.
Now, I tend not to blame Kane so much as I blame the fact that he, y'know, hasn't had a serious second-line quality center to play with in years - but it's worth noting that hockey fans and media don't cut Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby a similar degree of slack when he struggles to score on a line with Brian Gibbons....
Jonathan Quick was stellar in Game 3, as he often is in the postseason, and the way he moves laterally and takes away the bottom of the net is just amazing. His save on Brandon Saad to preserve the lead early in the third period was a perfect example of why Quick is so good behind a stingy defensive team like the Kings - you can beat him up high, but damn it, nothing is getting by him along the ice.
I'm not the biggest Quick fan because I don't generally don't rate goaltenders who fail to consistently outperform their backups, or can't post an elite even-strength save percentage every season. That's just how I evaluate goaltenders; with lots and lots of skepticisim. Quick does impress me with the speed and efficiency of his lateral movement across the crease, however, not to mention his overall aggression - both in terms of his positioning outside the blue on rush chances, and his save selections.
Willie Mitchell, who only recently returned from injury, was the second most heavily relied upon Kings defenseman at even-strength in Game 3 - with only Drew Doughty logging more even-strength minutes.
Thinking about the impact of a long-reach this past week, I looked up which defenders had the highest on-ice save percentage over the past few years. If we sort defenders based on their on-ice save percentage over the past seven years; Mitchell was second, only to Zdeno Chara. Some of that is playing in front of Luongo/Quick (for Mitchell) or Thomas/Rask (for Chara); but I do wonder if there's something about having a steady, consistent defender with a big ass stick protecting the slot that may impact opponent shot quality.
Jonathan Toews is just possessed this postseason, and his team may not even get through Los Angeles. His first goal was a bit of a softy by Corey Crawford, but that second goal - where Toews kicked the puck to his stick and roofed it with zero time or space at the goal mouth - that's just about as willful a goal as you'll see this posteason. Regarldess of how this series or the next turns out, this has been one heck of a run for the Blackhawks captain.
IIHF World Championship action tomorrow kick off with the bronze medal game starting at 9:15 a.m. ET between the Czechs and the Swedes. The gold medal game will get going later on in the day between Russia and Finland.
So if you just woke up and are reading this, um, go turn on TSN maybe and enjoy some of the action!
I covered Vancouver's naming of new general manager Jim Benning at length over at CanucksArmy this week, including my first impressions of the new Trevor Linden/Benning partnership. Benning seemed to lack any semblance of charisma during his introductory presser in my opinion, but he also radiated experience. That could be helpful since Linden has charisma to spare but a resume that just, doesn't have much on it.
In other words, the two former teammates appear to have complimentary strengths and weaknesses, and will probably need the support and expertise of one another desperately.
As for Vancouver's offseason plans, it would seem that the new management group hopes to retain Ryan Kesler, and is willing to ask players to waive their no-trade clauses (something that Mike Gillis was extraordinarily reluctant to do). If I were Vancouver, however, I'd be very leery of trading anyone significant after the disaster season my team just went through. After all, it's tough to judge a player based on the worst season of their career, and for many Canucks players, the 2013-14 season was just that.
It looks like the Washington Capitals are set to name former Nashville Predators bench boss Barry Trotz as their new head coach and the successor to Adam Oates. Obviously Trotz knows what's up, and should be an excellent fit in the U.S. capital. Seems a bit odd for the Capitals to hire Trotz prior to having a general manager in place though...
For Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill, adding depth down the middle of his forward group is a priority this summer. Last offseason, as you may recall, Nill added Shawn Horcoff, Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley at the center position. Adding quality centers isn't easy, and it seems preposterous to imagine that Nill could do any better on this front than he did last summer.
Finally, the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens will play Game 4 on Sunday night, and this series has become rapidly heated as a result of the sideshow nonsense that Michel Therrien's Habs seem to believe they need to compete. Whatever works, I guess?
Third-line ace Derick Brassard is due to return on Sunday, although the Rangers softly threatened him on Saturday. Meanwhile Derek Stepan - injured by a filthy hit by Rangers forward Brandon Prust that was inadquetly punished by the on-ice officials or the DoPS - will not play, although Brendan Gallagher thinks he might.
I wasn't convinced that the Canadiens' would be able to skate with the Rangers before the series, when I was assuming that Carey Price would be back-stopping Montreal's effort. I've seen nothing from this series to convince me otherwise, so far.
Tokarski has played well, in my estimation, but I also tend to think that it's only a matter of time before the Rangers breakout offensively against him. Needless to say, Tokarski will have to be brilliant Sunday...
Thomas Drance is a news editor at theScore.
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