LOS ANGELES – Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are among the few Los Angeles Kings who don’t have a Stanley Cup ring from two years ago.
Jeff Carter is grateful the youngsters are carrying him along on their own Cup chase after their line came up with another monster game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Carter had a goal and two assists, Toffoli scored the tiebreaking goal late in the second period, and the Kings beat Chicago 4-3 on Saturday night to take a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference finals.
Drew Doughty had a third-period goal and an assist, and Jonathan Quick made 24 saves as the Kings returned to Staples Center with an impressive two-way effort against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“I’m having so much fun with these guys,” said Toffoli, who has scored a goal in every game of the conference finals. “Getting to play with a guy like Carter is a great opportunity, and (Pearson) and me are trying to live up to him.”
Game 4 is Monday night at Staples Center.
Three days after Carter had four points in the third period of Game 2, Los Angeles got another dominant effort from the line centered by the veteran goal-scorer.
In a 6:11 span of the second period of Game 3, Carter scored the tying goal off Pearson’s pass before setting up the go-ahead score by Toffoli.
“They have a lot of chemistry from playing together in the minors,” Carter said. “They use their speed and their skill to create opportunities, and they kind of drag me along with them, so it’s fun.”
Toffoli and Pearson still hadn’t cracked the Kings’ lineup in 2012 when eighth-seeded Los Angeles won the title. Toffoli became a regular for last season’s run to the conference finals, while Pearson made his NHL debut in a playoff game last spring.
They’ve both become key components of the Kings’ four-line offensive attack. Slava Voynov also scored an early power-play goal as Los Angeles moved halfway to their second Stanley Cup final in three years.
Captain Jonathan Toews scored twice in the first period for the Blackhawks, but they didn’t score again until Patrick Sharp’s goal with 5 seconds left. Corey Crawford stopped 28 shots for Chicago, which has lost the first road game in 10 consecutive playoff series since 2010.
“Once they got the lead, they seemed to get the momentum, and we couldn’t quite find our way back into the game,” Toews said. “It’s up to us to play better with those leads.”
Three days after the Kings evened the series by scoring six consecutive goals in the final 22 minutes of Game 2, Los Angeles didn’t relax and rely on its NHL-best defense.
Neither team played conservatively despite the stakes, instead trading tantalizing scoring chances for the first two periods. Los Angeles kept pushing for goals even while leading in the third, generating 18 shots and keeping the talented Blackhawks stuck in their own end for long stretches.
“We all want to win in here, and Toews is obviously our captain and leader,” Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith said. “He definitely led the way tonight, but we need everybody if we are going to beat this team and try to win one here. Toews came out and led the way. It’s up to the rest of us to follow that.”
The Blackhawks beat the Kings in five games in the conference finals last season, but the rematch hasn’t been nearly as smooth for Chicago. Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell haven’t scored a goal in the conference finals, while Sharp’s last-gasp goal was his first of the series.
The Blackhawks had their usual hundreds of red-clad fans in an otherwise black-and-white Staples Center crowd, and Toews put Chicago ahead just 5:26 into Game 3 with a spectacular short-handed goal, stealing the puck from Justin Williams and beating Quick between the legs. After Voynov tied it, Toews connected again later in the period on a rebound.
The Kings evened it in the second period when Pearson corralled a puck that hit a referee behind the net and fed it to Carter in front for his eighth goal.
Carter then chipped the puck ahead to Toffoli shortly after a Chicago power play ended. Toffoli broke in on Crawford, who lifted his left pad for only an instant — right when Toffoli pushed the puck under him.