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Kings Courting Trouble, Pens Seeking to Diminish It

June 3, 2013

There’s a saying that goes something like, “you’re not in trouble in a playoff series until you lose at home.” If that’s true, the Los Angeles Kings have nothing to worry about (yet) and the Pittsburgh Penguins do.


Actually, the opposite is probably true.


The first weekend of the conference finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs are in the books, and thanks to a scheduling quirk, we were treated to one last glorious weekend night packed with hockey. That was on Saturday, when both the Eastern and Western Conference finals opened up, one right after the other.


From here on out, it’s one game per night – unless both series happen to require seven games.


In the second of those two conference final series openers on Saturday, the Boston Bruins handed the Penguins a 3-0 home ice loss in Game 1 of the Eastern final. The B’s and goaltender Tuukka Rask managed a whitewash of the Pens in Pittsburgh, no easy feat that. Rask’s blanking of the Pens was the first suffered by Pittsburgh in its own barn since Montreal’s Carey Price posted a 3-0 shutout over the Pens on March 12, 2011 at Consol Energy Center.


More notable than Rask’s work between the pipes was the Bruins ability to get the Pens rankled and seemingly more concerned with physical revenge than scoreboard revenge. Also, in putting three pucks past veteran Pittsburgh netminder Tomas Vokoun, the Bruins may have planted some seeds of worry as to the Penguins’ most vulnerable area.


Aside from their ongoing Vokoun vs. Marc-Andre Fleury conundrum, the Penguins do have a few worries. They won only 16 of 48 face-offs (33%) in Game 1. They trailed for 51:37 of the game, the most they’ve trailed in any game during these playoffs and more combined trailing time than their previous seven playoff games (43:20) this spring. And Pittsburgh would probably want to generate more than the 19 even-strength shots on goal it managed in Game 1 against the Bruins.


Pittsburgh did create offensive opportunities in Game 1; it just didn’t score. The Pens had some strong chances, and the Steel City crew drew iron on at least three occasions. If the Pens keep getting pucks to the net while turning the other cheek to the Bruins’ attempts to get them agitated, and if they can cut into Boston’s huge edge in face-offs, Pittsburgh will likely even the series in Monday’s Game 2.


On the other side of the coin, Boston has given itself a terrific opportunity here. You can’t win two until you win one, and the B’s have a chance for a sweep of the first two games in Pittsburgh. If the Bruins manage to score the game’s first goal tonight, they might have the Penguins squeezing their sticks a bit. After averaging 4.27 goals per game in their first 11 games of the playoffs this spring, the Pens were held without a goal on Saturday.


Boston already wrested home ice advantage from the Penguins with its Game 1 win in the ‘Burgh. The Bruins can do much more than that if they find a way to come out on top in Game 2.


On the other side of the continent, Chicago hosted Los Angeles in a game that started just after 5 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday. The Hawks came out hard and fast in the first, but had a 1-0 deficit to show for their 17-2 first-period lead over the Kings in shots on goal.


Naturally, it was Justin Williams who scored for the Kings; he supplied all of L.A.’s offense in Game 7 vs. San Jose. In fact, Williams would supply all of the Kings’ offense for a span of 185:04 – the equivalent of more than three full games – from the second period of Game 6 against the Sharks to the second period of Game 2 against the Blackhawks.


Chicago stuck to its game and took the lead in Game 1 with a pair of second-period goals. The book on L.A. goaltender Jonathan Quick is that he’s tough to beat clean, so traffic, rebounds and tips are needed. The Blackhawks used that recipe to take the lead; Patrick Sharp scored on a rebound and Marian Hossa on a deft deflection. The offensively challenged Kings managed just 22 shots and were outgunned 58-38 in terms of shots taken, falling 2-1 in the process.


The aforementioned scheduling quirk led to the Hawks and Kings playing back-to-back games, so the two teams teed it up again on Sunday night. Los Angeles did so minus two regulars. Center Mike Richards sat out with an upper body injury, courtesy of a hit from Chicago pivot Dave Bolland late in Game 1. The Kings were also without rookie defenseman Jake Muzzin who has an undisclosed injury. Muzzin was on the receiving end of a rugged Viktor Stalberg hit in Game 1.


Tyler Toffoli drew into the lineup in Richards’ stead, and Alec Martinez got a sweater in Muzzin’s absence.


Chicago scored early in the first period and tallied again late in the initial frame of Game 2. Andrew Shaw beat Quick low and to the short side after a smart pinch from defenseman Nick Leddy and a clever feed from Stalberg. The Hawks were on top before the game was even two minutes old, and they doubled the lead on a Brent Seabrook goal in the last minute of the period.


Shaw and Seabrook both beat Quick cleanly. Bryan Bickell scored on a Chicago power play, tucking a rebound through Quick’s pads. That gave the Hawks a 3-0 lead early in the second. With the Kings averaging less than two goals per tilt this spring, that was ballgame.


Minutes later, Chicago’s Michal Handzus beat Quick – cleanly, again – to the short side to make it a 4-0 game before the midpoint of the middle period. At this point, Quick was given the rest of the night off.


For the first time in a span of 35 playoff starts, Quick was nicked for more than three goals in a game. And for the first time in a span of 42 playoff starts, Quick wasn’t able to finish what he started.


The Kings managed a late goal in the second and another late tally in the third, but it was mere window dressing. Los Angeles lost a 4-2 decision in Game 2 and now heads home in a 2-0 series hole.


Having dropped the first two games on the road in its opening round series with the Blues, Los Angeles finds itself in familiar territory. The Kings turned that St. Louis series around with a 1-0 Game 3 win, courtesy of a 30-save shutout from Quick. The Kings will need Quick to rebound from a rare subpar performance in order to get back into this series.


Los Angeles scored a grand total of three goals in its first three playoff games, and the Kings have come back from a two-goal deficit just once in these playoffs. That one comeback from two goals down was in Game 4 of the series against the Blues. The Kings were down by two before the five-minute mark of the first in that game, and they managed to pull even by the end of the frame. Aside from that, they haven’t shown much comeback-ability when trailing in games this spring.


After scoring the first goal of the series, Los Angeles has trailed for virtually all of the last 90 minutes of hockey played in this series. Prior to Game 1 of this series, each of the Kings’ previous nine games were won by the team that scored first. Los Angeles’ style doesn’t provide for much margin for error. The Kings need to get on the board first – and preferably early – in Tuesday’s Game 3.


In just under 13 minutes of work, Toffoli had a goal and an assist in Game 2, contributing some needed offense. Seeing his first game action in more than two weeks, Martinez wasn’t as effective. He was on the ice for the first and fourth Chicago goals, and his stumble gave the Hawks an odd-man break on the latter tally.


If Los Angeles is able to get Richards and/or Muzzin back for Game 3, so much the better. But regardless of who’s in and who’s out, the Kings have to find a way to make the Hawks play from behind. The Kings won only six of the 22 regular season games in which they surrendered the game’s first goal.


Los Angeles has struggled mightily on the road this spring, but the Kings have yet to lose at home in the 2013 playoffs. Quick has allowed 18 goals in eight road playoff games this spring, but has surrendered just eight goals in seven games at Staples Center. The Kings now need Quick to quell the Hawks swift start in this series, just as he did to the Blues a month ago.