2014 WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL – GAME 7: The Los Angeles Kings are back in Chicago, a place they did not want to return to, not this soon, anyway. Despite that, they’re not uncomfortable being back in the Windy City for tonight’s Game 7. Part 1 of this two-part story looks back at Game 6, and the reasons they are back in Chicago. Part 2 will look at why the Kings are so comfortable being in Chicago for Game 7, even though returning was clearly not their first choice.
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings are certainly in a place they don’t want to be, not literally, anyway.
After a 4-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of the 2014 Western Conference Final, the series is tied, 3-3, forcing the Kings to return to Chicago for tonight’s Game 7 (5:00 PM PDT), a city that they had no desire to visit again, at least, not until next season.
Defensive breakdowns and failing to pay close enough attention to the Blackhawks’ top players, most notably, Patrick Kane, have been the Kings’ downfall in the last two games.
“It’s been our problem the last two games, giving up too many goals and that’s the result of making mistakes in the neutral zone and mistakes on coverage,” said winger and team captain Dustin Brown. “If we clean that up, we’re good.”
“We’ve got to be sharper in our own end,” said defenseman Alec Martinez. “We can’t have those breakdowns and allow them those opportunities. They’re going to capitalize.”
The critical point in Game 6 that the Kings regretted the most was the fact that less than four minutes after Martinez gave the Kings a 3-2 lead at the 7:38 mark of the third period, a defensive breakdown gift-wrapped a goal for Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith, tying the game and giving the Blackhawks new life and all the momentum.
“They got that goal pretty quickly, right after,” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “It was a breakdown in coverage in our defensive zone. Their defensemen are really active. We’ve seen that [throughout the] series, so we’ve got to clean that up a little bit. They’re finding shots in the middle of the slot, which a defenseman shouldn’t be doing, so we need to clean that up and not allow these third period leads to slip.”
Cleaning up their defensive play includes paying closer attention to the Blackhawks’ best players.
“We have to be hard on their top players,” said Brown, “It’s the same thing that they’re probably saying about [center Anze Kopitar], Drew, and [left wing Marian Gaborik]. You’ve got to be hard on those top guys and limit their space and time. When you do that, it makes it harder on them.”
“We let’em off the hook a little bit,” added Brown. “That’s why [Kane is] the type of player he is, and [why] he’s able to make plays.”
Limiting the time and space of the Blackhawks’ top players, especially Kane, has been a common refrain from the Kings’ dressing room over the last few days.
“He’s one of the top players in the world,” Martinez noted. “I think we have to do a better job of taking away his time and space. A guy like that’s going to make plays. We just to have to be quick on contact with him, and take away his time and space so he can’t make those plays.”
“We’ve got to play him better,” Doughty stressed. “He doesn’t do anything in the game, and then he comes out in the third period and makes two plays to get them the win. It just shows you that even though he’s not doing too much throughout the whole sixty minutes, he’s going to have a spurt where he really turns it on.”
The next day, the Kings were saying much the same thing after they arrived back in Chicago.
“I’m not going to [sit] here and toot his horn so much,” right wing Justin Williams told the media on May 31. “He’s an enemy right now. “He’s had a huge impact the last two games, how they ended. “Let’s hope that’s not the case tomorrow. There’s no secret on how you play him, I think. You try to limit his space.”
“[Kane is] a great player,” defenseman Willie Mitchell told the media on May 31. “We all know that. He plays well in great games. As a group, we have to collectively to do a heck of a job against him.”
“We did that in Games 1 through 4,” Mitchell added. “I think the last couple of games, as a group, we gave him some life. We need to do the same things we did in the first games, not the last two. When he has the puck, give him the least amount of time as possible because he’s a very creative player. He creates things, not only for himself, but for others to do that. We’ll look to do that.”
But it’s not just Kane that the Kings have to worry about. After all, the Blackhawks also have highly-skilled players like Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Saad, among others. Nevertheless, limiting their time and space is critical.
“Their time and space—we’ve got to take that way and be quicker to contact, be quicker to coverage,” said center Jarret Stoll. “They got a couple of goals because of that.”
“We’re not closing quick enough [and] we’re allowing them to gain the zone with possession,” said Doughty. “Our neutral zone forecheck isn’t good enough right now. They’re skilled forwards. They’re going to create space on their own, but at the same time, their top guys—we know who they are. We need to close out and play them physically.”
“They’re a good offensive team,” said Mitchell. “Everyone knows that. They’ve got three lines that can put the puck in the back of the net. To beat the Chicago Blackhawks, you have to defend. That’s what we’ll look to do tomorrow.”
Doughty also said that the Blackhawks played with more desperation than the Kings did in Games 5 and 6.
“I don’t know if we played enough desperate hockey in these last two games, and I think that’s kind of why we lost both of them,” he noted. “It’s about time we get to that type of game that the LA Kings can play. We have to play a lot more desperate and be better prepared.”
“We just all [have to] play more desperate,” he added. “We all [have to] play like it’s our last game out there, the last game of our lives. We want nothing more than to win for this team and to be in that Stanley Cup Final.”
“We just lacked a little desperation and they had a little more. That’s why we lost.”
Part of cleaning up to do in the defensive zone, is better checking and limiting turnovers.
“This league is not about defense, it’s about good checking and not turning the puck over,” head coach Darryl Sutter told the media in Chicago on May 31. “Teams that just play defense, they’ve been on the outside looking in on April 15.”
“If you just take last night, goals were scored, goals in the third period, one was a power play goal, Drew’s goal—good offensive zone play, and Kane’s goal off the wall—that’s miss coverage on a defenseman. Duncan Keith’s goal was a missed coverage. [Those are] little areas of a better player taking advantage of a lesser player.”
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