Both the Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings held their opponents scoreless on Thursday night to put themselves just one win away from advancement. Defending Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick and rising star Jimmy Howard are demonstrating, once again, that nothing is more valuable in May than a hot goaltender.
At Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the Wings won their third straight to put the President’s Trophy winning Blackhawks in a corner. The 2-0 victory marked the first time in 2013 that Chicago has failed to score and the first time that they’ve lost three in a row. It was a defensive battle all the way through, with neither team reaching the 30-shot plateau. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was a picture of frustration as he fought desperately to score his first goal of the postseason. Instead of finding the twine, Toews found his way to the penalty box, visiting the sin-bin three times in the second period. The Red Wings made the most of Toews’ time in the box, with Jakub Kindl banking a point blast off the post and past Corey Crawford to put the Red Wings up by one.
Detroit would not beat Crawford again, but Jimmy Howard made the slim lead hold up. The former University of Maine netminder stopped 28 shots to earn his first shutout of the postseason. Having allowed just two goals in his last three starts, Howard is playing the best hockey of his career and will be a Conn Smythe favorite if he helps the seventh-seeded Wings complete the upset.
An empty-netter from Daniel Cleary sealed the deal for the Red Wings, who have now robbed Joel Quenneville‘s Blackhawks of their home ice advantage by taking a 3-1 series lead. The Blackhawks will return to Chicago begging their stars to step up. They have proven plenty of times this season that they can win three games in a row against any opposition, but they will need Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa to be at the height of their powers to pull off the comeback
Out west, the LA Kings looked happy to be home after losing two in San Jose. Jonathan Quick made 24 saves in the 3-0 victory for his second shutout of the series and third of the postseason.
With less than two minutes remaining in the second period, a Justin Williams blast fell nicely for Anze Kopitar who put home his first goal of the series and gave the Kings the lead. Immediately after the second intermission, Slava Voynov made it two with a shot from the point that somehow weaved through countless bodies to beat Antti Niemi.
The Sharks fired 13 shots on net in the third, but could not break through.The defending champs stifled the likes of Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski time after time, before Jeff Carter extinguished any hope of a miracle comeback with an empty net goal in the final minute.
In the most hotly contested series of the second round, neither California club has managed to win away from home. The pressure now falls on the Sharks who will have to survive Sunday’s Game 6 in San Jose and then break serve back at the Staples Center if they hope to reach the Western Conference Finals for the third time in four years.
With their teams on the brink of elimination, it’s time for Chicago’s Corey Crawford and San Jose’s Antti Niemi to raise their games above and beyond the level of Howard and Quick if they hope to continue chasing Lord Stanley’s Hardware.