The Los Angeles Kings jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead and the Chicago Blackhawks couldn't catch them, with the Kings taking a 5-2 decision in Game Four to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
Kings D Jake Muzzin scored the first of two power play goals for the Kings. Playing more than 21 minutes per game in the playoffs, Muzzin now has 11 points, placing him third among defencemen in the postseason. Not bad for a guy who didn't hook on with an NHL club until the Kings signed him during his overage junior season in Sault Ste. Marie. Four years later, Muzzin is on the top defence pairing for a team closing in on the Western Conference title.
Muzzin is paired with Drew Doughty, who also had a goal and an assist in Game Four (though his goal appeared to be deflected in by Dwight King) and leads defencemen with 14 points in the playoffs. Game Four was so well in hand for the Kings that they could limit Doughty's ice time; 23:55 was Doughty's lowest ice time since Game Two of the playoffs (after which he complained about his lack of ice time).
For once, the Blackhawks didn't get burned by the line of Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, until Pearson scored into an empty net, though Pearson had a team-high seven shot attempts and tied Carter with a team-leading four shots on goal. The bad news for Chicago is that the Kings' other top scorers got on track. Marian Gaborik scored a goal while Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams each picked up a couple of assists; Kopitar extending his playoff scoring lead with 22 points and Gaborik leads all playoff goal-scorers, with 10.
In their ultimately fruitless attempt to come back, the Blackhawks' chances were created by their power forwards. Marian Hossa, Bryan Bickell and Brandon Sadd had nine, eight and seven shot attempts, respectively, to lead the Blackhawks. Saad and Bickell scored Chicago's goals.
Chicago's leaders, C Jonathan Toews and RW Patrick Kane, skated together for most of the game, as the Blackhawks tried to shake up lines and it didn't really work. While both assisted on Bickell's third-period goal, Toews didn't register a shot on goal (though, immediately preceding Bickell's goal, Doughty basically blocked a Toews shot in the crease to prevent a goal), the second time in the series Toews has been held without a shot on goal.
The Blackhawks need their big guns to be firing, but they also need G Corey Crawford to perform better. After allowing four goals on 20 shots in Game Four, Crawford has stopped 69 of 82 shots (.841 SV%) in the last three games. The goals against aren't all on Crawford, to be sure but, no matter how you slice it, .841 isn't good enough to win.
Blackhawks C Michal Handzus played a game-low 4:28, not seeing the ice beyond six minutes into the second period.
This isn't the first time in the playoffs that a team, on the verge of elimination, has looked like they were on the way out, and that's the situation in which the Blackhawks find themselves now. More than 90% of teams with a three-game-to-one lead in an NHL playoff series go on to win, so the Blackhawks have a steep hill to climb.
But, they can look across the ice and take heart, knowing that the Kings had to overcome a three-games-to-none deficit in Round One against San Jose to get turned loose on this playoff run.
Right now, the Kings look invincible, but hockey is a funny game sometimes and if the Blackhawks are better on home ice in Game Five, maybe they still have a way to dig out of this hole.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.