Can Blackhawks continue penetrating Kings' superb defense?

Can Blackhawks continue penetrating Kings' superb defense?
Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick deflects a point-blank shot by Blackhawks left wing Patrick Sharp in the second period Friday in Game 6. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Kings surrendered an average of only 2.12 goals a game in leading the NHL in fewest regular-season goals allowed, but as they head to their third Game 7 of the postseason tonight, they've been struck by nine goals in their last two Western Conference final losses.

The Chicago Blackhawks, who led the league in goal scoring this season, have established a formula they're hoping will continue with a Stanley Cup finals date against the New York Rangers at stake tonight in the 5 p.m. Pacific time game at United Center.


"Getting to the net, getting traffic," Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad said when asked what's flipped the switch for the defending Stanley Cup champions' offense. "[Kings goalie Jonathan] Quick's a greal goaltender and he makes a lot of the first saves, but when you take away his eyes and get in front of him, we've been seeing success."

Saad dismissed the notion that perhaps the Kings are fatiguing due to the exertion of being stretched to the limit in their third consecutive series.

"You can think about that, but Game 7, everyone gets pumped up regardless, and we've been in two Game 6s already, so they've only had a few more games."

Chicago Coach Joel Quenneville said his move to align Saad with forward Patrick Kane and center Andrew Shaw before Game 5 has been a key reason for the Blackhawks' breakthroughs.

Saad, Shaw and Kane have combined for three goals and 11 assists in the last two victories, which have both featured two third-period Chicago rallies led by the masterful improvisation of Kane.

"And our power-play scoring in the last two games can really ignite our offense as well," Quenneville said.

Quenneville looks to be tinkering again before Game 7, moving forward Patrick Sharp alongside center Marcus Kruger and forward Ben Smith (a goal in both Games 5 and 6) and re-inserting forward Kris Versteeg back into play after getting benched in Game 5 and missing Game 6.

"The biggest thing for us is being strong defensively," Smith said. "Adding 'Sharpie' on there, I think we can add an element of offense that this team needs. We have the guys that score but if we provide that second-tier offense — obviously 'Sharpie' is not second-tier offensive guy — but for Kruger and me to contribute a bit, that would be nice.

"It's exciting for us to get a bit more ice, a bit more opportunity and try to make the most of it."

Versteeg was with veteran center and Game 6 hero Michal Handzus and forward Brandon Bollig on a fourth line whose minutes are expected to be limited considering the magnitude.

Sharp said Quenneville kept the message simple when he addressed the Blackhawks during their morning skate.

Chicago rallied from 3-1 to beat the Detroit Red Wings in last year's conference semifinals, and they overcame losing the first two in St. Louis this year to win in six games.

"We know what to expect," Sharp said. "Just enjoy it, have fun, we've been in big games before. It's going to be a fun atmosphere and we're ready for it.

"He says the right thing at the right time. He knows our team will be ready to go tonight."


Given the compelling back-and-forth of the series, in which the Kings answered a two-goal Game 2 deficit to hand Chicago its first home playoff loss of the postseason, winning three straight before Kane's dominance, Smith said there's another powerful motivator at play.

"We know it's been a special series, a lot of up-and-down, fast-paced games," Smith said. "We want to be on the winning side of it.

"The loser of this series probably won't be remembered."