Niklas Hjalmarsson celebrates with goalie Corey Crawford following the Chicago Blackhawks win over the Los Angeles Kings in Game 4. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Why Chicago won: Because they finally got some secondary scoring…to complement the contributions of their offensive superstar Bryan Bickell. It was crucial for the Blackhawks to get a split in Los Angeles and not allow the defending Stanley Cup champions to claw their way back into the series and they did it on the play of their star players. Patrick Kane finally scored, even if it was a tap-in on a goal that would have belonged to Bickell, but it came after some fine work by Kane, Jonathan Toews and Bickell. The Blackhawks were much more puck-focused than they were in Game 3.
Why Los Angeles lost: The Kings score three goals in a game with the same frequency as a lunar eclipse, so they have no margin for error. With the exception of a Bickell knuckler that eluded him on the Blackhawks first goal, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was just really, really, really good and on some nights, that’s not enough for the Kings. It was actually remarkable how little urgency the Kings displayed in the third period after the Blackhawks took the lead. Two shots in the third period? Really? The Kings are now 1-for-15 on the power play in the series.
Play of the game: Early in the third period, the Kings failed to get the puck deep into the Blackhawks zone and instead turned it over in the offensive zone. The result was a good transition by the Blackhawks and an odd-man rush the other way that ended in a brilliant one-timer by Marian Hossa that put the Blackhawks in the lead for good in the game.
Bryan Bickell: Bickell may singlehandedly making this summer’s unrestricted free agent crop a more attractive one. He scored a goal and added an assist on a goal by Patrick Kane that would have gone in anyway.
Patrick Kane: He broke out with a goal, but he also played an inspired game and made things happen offensively, specifically in the second period.
Niklas Hjalmarsson: With No. 1 defenseman Duncan Keith sitting out his one-game suspension for slashing Jeff Carter, Hjalmarsson was a rock in the Chicago end of the ice, as he usually is.
What’s next: The Blackhawks have a chance to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup final Saturday night at the United Center and it’s difficult to fathom they won’t do it, particularly in light of the fact that their best players have come alive in the series. The way the Kings faded in the third period makes it look as though their gruelling first two series are catching up to them in a big way.