LOS ANGELES (AP) — Marian Gaborik took a momentary break from the usual businesslike atmosphere in the Kings’ dressing room and allowed himself one moment to marvel at what Los Angeles has accomplished this spring.
The low-scoring Kings have become the Stanley Cup playoffs’ highest-scoring team, and this defensive powerhouse is also shutting down the Chicago Blackhawks’ big stars. With a 5-2 victory in Game 4 on Monday night, Los Angeles pushed the defending NHL champions to the verge of elimination with its third straight win in the Western Conference final.
Gaborik has never been a part of anything like it in his 13 NHL seasons. He’s one game away from something else he’s never seen: The Stanley Cup Final.
“To come into every game with that confidence, to have that mojo that you can win every game, that’s the difference,” said Gaborik, who joined the Kings on March 5 and immediately catalyzed their offense. “It’s great to come to a team like this and be part of a winning culture.”
Jake Muzzin, Gaborik and captain Dustin Brown scored in the opening 16 minutes for the Kings, who get their first chance to win just their third conference title in franchise history in Game 5 Wednesday night in Chicago.
Muzzin and Drew Doughty each had a goal and an assist, and Jonathan Quick made 22 saves as the Kings moved to the brink of their second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in three seasons. The Kings have won 11 of their last 15 playoff games after an 0-3 start in the first round against San Jose.
While it’s not quite their incredible 16-4 rampage through the playoffs two years ago, the Kings are doing it against even tougher competition this time, leaving the Blackhawks just one more chance to reclaim their championship form.
“We’re not looking ahead,” Kings forward Justin Williams said. “Chicago, I believe they’ve been down 3-1 before. Every team has been through experiences that have made them better. Stanley Cup championship teams like Chicago and us, we’ve been through a lot. We’ve persevered through a lot, and they’re down 3-1, we’re trying to squash them, and they’re trying to get some life.”
Tanner Pearson added an empty-net goal for the Kings, who won their only title in 2012. One year after Los Angeles lost the conference finals in five games to Chicago, the Kings have their own chance to close it out in five.
Two days after the Kings gritted out a 4-3 victory over Chicago in Game 3, they won again at Staples Center by scoring three goals on their first six shots of Game 4, capping an incredible three-game offensive performance by the lowest-scoring NHL team to make the postseason.
After trailing 2-0 late in the second period of Game 2, Los Angeles scored 13 goals in less than 100 minutes, capped by a dominant first period in Game 4.
Muzzin scored on a power play. Gaborik added his 10th goal of the postseason off Duncan Keith’s turnover. Brown banged a puck into an open net for another power-play goal, his first score since Game 7 of the first round against San Jose.
The Kings got a standing ovation from their delirious fans, and another as they left the ice for intermission.
Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell scored and Corey Crawford stopped 16 shots for the Blackhawks, who didn’t get rolling until they trailed 4-0 late in the second period.
“I don’t think we played that poorly,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. “We made some mistakes, and their confidence snowballed on us. Next thing you know, it doesn’t matter how hard you work or how many shifts you spend in their zone. If the bounces aren’t going your way, it’s tough to get back in a game like this. We’re going to find a way to get those bounces again and get things rolling our way. We’ll work ourselves out of it.”
The Blackhawks escaped a 3-1 hole in the second round against Detroit last season, but that’s the only time in franchise history Chicago has rallied from that deficit — and the Kings are an entirely different postseason challenge.
“It’s not a good position to be in,” said Patrick Kane, who assisted on Bickell’s goal for his first point in the series. “Coming into this series, we’d be lying if we thought we’d be in this position, but it happens. Got no one to blame but ourselves, so we’re the only ones that can get ourselves out of it.”
After their dominant opening period, the Kings kept pressing in the second, and Doughty put a long shot through traffic midway through the period. Doughty, the Kings’ leader in ice time, has goals in back-to-back games after scoring just once in the first 16 playoff games.
Chicago finally beat Quick when Saad scored on a backhand. The Kings sat back on defense to start the third period, and Bickell got just his second goal in eight games when he jumped on a loose puck in the slot with 10:31 to play.
NOTES: Chicago’s power play went 0 for 3, dropping to 1 for 24 on the road in the postseason. … The Blackhawks scratched F Brandon Bollig in favor of Peter Regin, who sat out Game 3 after Andrew Shaw’s return. … Game 6 would be Friday at Staples Center.