The Los Angeles Kings showed throughout the first two periods of game four that they were the best team remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They had the crowd into the game and they were physical on the forecheck and structurally sound when they had the puck in the offensive zone. The Kings’ star players are playing at another level. Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick are playing at a Conn Smythe level, which is trouble enough for most teams.
Normally that would be enough of advantage for a team to win a series in the playoffs, but the key for the Kings remains in their depth. The Chicago Blackhawks have world-class players in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and they can match the top line of the Kings. However, it’s the second line of Justin Williams, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli that’s making the difference in this series.
The second line of the Blackhawks simply cannot match the Kings, and that’s giving them problems. The dominance of that line was put on display late in the third when the Blackhawks were down 4-2. That line controlled the play when the Blackhawks needed to push the puck in their offensive zone.
Depth is the key ingredient in a Stanley Cup winner. The ability to get production from not just one line, but all four lines, is what separates Stanley Cup champions and playoff contenders. The Kings, in Game 4, got goals from Jake Muzzin, who replaced the injured veteran Robyn Regehr. A key indicator of how much trust coach Darryl Sutter has in Muzzin is that he had the third-highest amount of ice time in the game behind Doughty and Slava Voynov.
The Blackhawks seemed to gain back some control of the game in the third period, but that was due to the fact that Marian Hossa was double shifting. Over a short period of time, that can work and that can generate offense, but a team can’t do that over an extended period of time. The Kings’ depth is beating the Blackhawks’ depth and that is the reason why they are ahead in this series.
The Blackhawks’ secondary players have let them down so much that head coach Joel Quenneville didn’t even put quality playoff performer Patrick Sharp on the ice late in the game. Sharp has had a very quiet series and Quenneville didn’t trust him enough to put him on the ice down two goals with the face off in the offensive zone.
Aside from a 10-minute stretch in the third period, the Blackhawks didn’t have much room to breathe. The Kings made sure there was always pressure on the puck. This was emphasized when, even with an empty net, the Blackhawks couldn’t get the puck past the red line.
Depth that can play structure has become the reason why the Kings are ahead in this series. They are one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup finals and if they continue to play like they did in Game 4, expect them to be hoisting the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years.