The temptation now is to say that by beating the Chicago Blackhawks at even strength, with no excuses, the Kings have taken control, up two games to one, in the Western Conference finals that resume with Game 4 tonight at Staples Center with a 6:20 p.m. puck drop.
But have they?
Chicago’s 15-2 record from Game 4 on in the last two postseasons and the franchise’s 27-7 mark in Games 4-7 since 2010 is strong evidence that the defending Stanley Cup champions are still very much in the series.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said his team’s dominance late in series begins with their ability to crack an opponent.
“Maybe kind of understanding ... a little bit better,” Toews said. “Us knowing we have to raise our game every single game as we go throughout a series, as the stakes get higher, we're getting to the point now where it's time to do that.”
Toews said despite the fact the Kings have outscored Chicago 10-3 in the last four-plus periods, that breakthrough still feels as if it can click in this matchup.
“There's never a doubt in our minds,” he said. “We made it this far. We don't want to stop now. We want to keep working, improving like we've done in the postseason in previous years. There's that potential there. There's that belief there, that we're that type of team and we have that ability. We don't want to pass up any opportunities.”
Among the challenges is improving a 2-for-10 power play and getting a point from star forward Patrick Kane, who has none in this series.
“I’m sure there’s some guys on the team that feel they can bring more,” Toews said. “Now’s the time to do it. We’ve done it in the past. That’s a huge reason why we’ve been successful and why we feel very confident about our chances in this series.
“It’s pretty obvious there’s motivation to win this game. Guys will be ready to play. I’m not the only guy capable of setting an example. Everyone’s encouraged to bring that leadership quality, to set that example, play their best hockey, to make guys say, ‘Why not me?’ ”
Toews and Chicago Coach Joel Quenneville were coy when asked about the idea of pairing Toews and Kane on the same line.
Quenneville additionally said “the bulk” of success from the Kings’ line of center Jeff Carter and forwards Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli (six goals, six assists in the last two games), has come when his team seeks more offense. He also dismissed a question asking if he’s seeing his team getting fatigued.
His expectation is a return to another run as the series shifts to its second half.
“Give the guys the credit. They rise to the challenge,” Quenneville said. “The games become more meaningful, bigger stage, bigger challenge. They seem to rise to that next challenge and occasion. We've had some guys that have been in some big stages, some big situations, they find a way, led by our captain, our core group. Group follows.”