Just how important was this rematch, the first meeting between the Kings and Chicago since June 1?
The Kings saw fit to rest No. 1 goaltender Jonathan Quick to get ready for this big game — well, as big as it gets in November — going as far as to start Martin Jones on back-to-back nights, in Nashville and in Minnesota last week.
The Blackhawks struck early against Quick and the Kings and were ruthlessly efficient. They scored twice on their first eight shots and put on a clinic on their way to a 4-1 victory against the Kings at Staples Center on Saturday night.
Brad Richards, who was on the losing end of the Stanley Cup Final as a member of the New York Rangers against the Kings, scored twice for the Blackhawks. Daniel Carcillo, a former King, had the game's first goal, just 1:52 into the game, and Brandon Saad had an empty-netter with 1:49 remaining.
The lone Kings goal came from little-used forward Jordan Nolan, who had his first of the season.
These teams put on a stirring show in last season's Western Conference final, with the Kings ultimately prevailing in seven games when an Alec Martinez shot deflected off Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy in overtime to put the Kings into the Stanley Cup Final.
Oddly enough, neither of the key figures in last season's seventh game were on the ice here. Martinez remains out of the Kings lineup because of a finger injury. He may be cleared to play as early as Tuesday, when the Boston Bruins visit. Leddy, meanwhile, was traded to the New York Islanders by the Blackhawks just before the start of the regular season.
And no, it wasn't punishment for accidentally deflecting that decisive goal behind his own goaltender. The Blackhawks needed to shed a salary on the blue line to become salary-cap compliant, something the Kings have had to deal with themselves this season, as a result of Slava Voynov's indefinite suspension.
Chicago's presence at Staples on Saturday night was a reminder that in the NHL, the regular season counts but it's the playoffs in which reputations are made, resumes enhanced, legacy burnished.
But Kings Coach Darryl Sutter hardly adopts the hands-off attitude during the regular season. Not that any coach would do so. Sutter appeared especially irritated following the breakdown on Carcillo's goal.
“Just a bad play,” Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “I didn't make the play I needed to make and it ended up going to Carcillo and he batted it out of the air.
“We've got to be better. We had the puck all three goals against and got to make the play, got to execute the play.”
Chicago led 2-0 after one period. Nolan's goal, at 5:53 of the second period, cut the Blackhawks' lead to 2-1 but Richards scored his second of the game, just minutes later, at 8:14, to halt any Kings momentum.
“They're the best team in the league and that's clear,” Sutter said. “Through the first two months of the year. If you give them two goals, you're going to probably get your [butt] kicked. And that's exactly what happened.”
Said Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr: “We didn't have a very good start. We've been talking about our starts and they came out and really took it to us in the first three or four shifts, especially.
“When you're down 2-0 after the first period, it's really difficult.”
The Kings were playing without right wing Marian Gaborik, who missed the game with an upper-body injury. He practiced on Friday and Sutter was asked whether the injury was related to the other injury that kept Gaborik out for eight previous games this season.
“Who knows?” Sutter said.
Two of the Blackhawks goal scorers, Richards and Carcillo, played with the Rangers against the Kings in the Stanley Cup Final in June. Carcillo, in fact, started last season with the Kings.
“It's a little weird,” said Richards of coming back to L.A. for the first time since the Cup Final. “The feeling is, I wish I would have done it [score two goals] the last time I was in here; it would have kept the series going. It's funny too because I'm on the team they beat to get to us.