LOS ANGELES - The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings knew they’d both be flying to California on Thursday, but make no mistake — before Wednesday’s Meltdown on Madison, they were two teams headed in entirely different directions.
The defending Stanley Cup champions were on a seemingly unstoppable crusade, winning nine of their previous 11 games, including seven in a row at home.
The Kings, meanwhile, were living hand to mouth, somehow managing to stay alive in the post-season despite losing five of their past seven.
And they were well on their way to losing for the 10th time in 11 games to Chicago as the second period wound down in Game 2.
But in a wild 21 minutes and 46 seconds, everything changed.
In showing the kind of mettle that won them a championship two years ago, the Kings rose up and rolled over the Blackhawks in their own building, carved deep wounds into netminder Corey Crawford’s confidence and finally managed to plant a few seeds of doubt in a Blackhawks team that had every reason to feel invincible.
“I think it was a huge game for our approach, our psyche,” said Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown. “Kind of like slaying the mythical dragon. We’ve been dominated by this team over the last couple of years.
“To get a win in their building with the type of home record they have, I think gives us a boost in confidence.”
It should. The Kings are coming home with a split, knowing they have the better goalie and that their best is good enough to beat these guys.
“We feel good about that,” said L.A. defenceman Drew Doughty. “We haven’t played our best hockey yet, so we’re not completely happy with ourselves, but that was kind of our goal coming in here, at least 1-1.
“It’s tough to win in (Chicago). I don’t think anyone in here had ever won a playoff game in their building. So we did a good job of doing that. Now we’re going home to our home fans, our home rink, and we’re excited. We’ve got to win two games there.’’
The Kings, who have been through some major mood swings (how is it even possible to have a pair of three-game losing streaks in the playoffs and still be in the third round?) haven’t been especially good at home, just 3-3. But with three of the next four games in Los Angeles, they realize this is their chance to put the series in a stranglehold.
“We have to be ready because I’m sure they’re not a very happy hockey club right now,” said Kings centre Jarret Stoll. “So we have to be ready for that and have our own push at the start of Game 3 and show them that we mean business, too.”
In terms of psychological impact, the developments in Game 2 probably mean more to the Kings than to Chicago. The Blackhawks are a seasoned and decorated bunch that live for the big stage. It will take more than one bad period to shake their confidence or resolve.
“No,” said Chicago’s Kris Versteeg, when asked if the Game 2 collapse would have any lingering effects. “We had some tough, tough losses in St. Louis and we rebounded. We know what it takes.”
And with two days between games, everything that needs to be adjusted from Game 2 will have been adjusted, and everything that needs to be forgotten will have been forgotten.
“We have to reflect on what just happened and be ready to raise our own level of play,” said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. “We’re ticked off we let one slip away from us in our own building, but we can’t dwell on it too much.
“They’re going to be even better in their own building, we have to expect that. We have to focus on what we can do better and make sure we’re ready to play a more complete game.”
Because the Kings are coming.
“It just goes to show you what can happen when you take your foot off the gas, when you make a few mistakes and you let up for a few shifts,” said Hawks winger Patrick Sharp. “That’s a quality team over there. They won a Stanley Cup (in 2012) and they’re hungry for more.”
ON WITH THE SHAW
After three weeks and one false alarm, Chicago shift-disturber Andrew Shaw will finally make his return to the lineup Saturday.
“That will be awesome,” said Chicago defenceman Nick Leddy. “We definitely miss having him in the lineup. His presence is always felt when he’s playing.”
The thorn-in-the-side winger has been out with a lower-body injury and is just the kind of element the Hawks could use in enemy territory.
“He’s got an element that you appreciate: His competitiveness,” said coach Joel Quenneville, who considered dressing him for Game 2, but decided to give him three more days off. “He’s got some skills. He’s got some abrasiveness. He’s got the right attitude to find a way to get the job done. Getting him back in the lineup is exciting. His presence can help us.”