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Kings win the battles in Game 4, especially in front of Blackhawks net

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com

LA made life tough on Corey Crawford and Chicago's D. (Getty Images)
LA made life tough on Corey Crawford and Chicago's D. (Getty Images)

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Of all the areas in which the Kings were potentially going to beat the Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals, about the last spot you figured it would be was with their offense.

There's no denying that Los Angeles has some excellent offensive talent but year in, year out the Kings struggle to score. This season? They finished 26th in the NHL in goals. They consistently have a low shooting percentage, which makes you wonder how much is the system vs. poor luck. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, have what most view as the best defensive corps in the league. Edge: Blackhawks, right?

Not so much, not through four games at least. The Kings have taken a commanding 3-1 lead in this series because of what they are doing with the puck, not what they're doing when Chicago has it (though that helps too). We call the lead commanding not because it puts the Blackhawks on the brink -- how many times have we seen that leads aren't safe this postseason? -- but the way they have built up this 3-1 lead.

Going back through the last three games, all wins for LA, the Kings have been having their way with the Chicago defense. Well really it's about the last 7 periods because the Hawks had it figured out through the first game and first two periods of the second. Now? They are nowhere to be found. The Kings have tallied 15 goals in the past three games. Against Chicago!

It's incredibly easy to blame Corey Crawford between the Chicago pipes for the high goals against. Even after a performance last postseason that was deserving of winning the Conn Smythe, the belief has persisted that Crawford is the weak link in Chicago so seeing the goals against pile up will naturally fall on his head as much as anybody else's. Indeed, he could be better, but so could the heralded defense in front of him.

They could start by actually getting in front of him.

Let's take a look at LA's goals in Game 4, shall we? Here's what the first one from Jake Muzzin looked like, though keep in mind this was on the power play.

Fast forward to the next Kings power play and Dustin Brown's goal.

Sure, the Kings put on a terrific passing display but still, this is what the play looked like just before the puck got to Brown.

Noticing a trend yet? If not, maybe one more will really help sell the situation.

This play here was not on a power play but at even strength. Drew Doughty was able to take his time and really load up that massive shot of his. It's tough enough to stop a Doughty blast already, but here's what Crawford had to look at.

In case you didn't pick up on it, the Kings were making a living right in front of the crease. For Crawford it's awfully tough to stop shots he can't see.

The Kings are a big, physical team. They command the puck so well and it's understandable that from time to time you might lose them in the defensive zone with the way they can pass.

Still, you can't give up control of the crease like that and expect to win, not at this time of the year especially. Chicago was losing the battles everywhere on the ice in Game 4, the neutral zone, along the boards and most importantly, in front of the crease. Perhaps more concerning, though, was that at times they weren't even battling for the space in front of their crease.

It was such a rough go of it for the Blackhawks defense that even Duncan Keith had a moment to forget. On the corner boards he was stripped of the puck from the always excellent Anze Kopitar, who quickly threw the puck toward the front of the net where once again a King was waiting and Marian Gaborik was tipping it in, past Crawford.

To pin all of this on one just one aspect of the game is tough and we're not trying to insinuate that this is the only thing wrong with the Blackhawks right now. They have a lot of work to do to get back into this series and the hope has to be that the third period gave them something to work on going back to Chicago for Game 5 on Wednesday.

It's just that right now with Crawford not on top of his game and looking very beatable, his Blackhawks teammates aren't making it any easier by allowing the Kings to make a throne out of the blue paint in front of Crawford.

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