LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It all came down to 20 minutes of dominance by the Chicago Blackhawks as they shut out the Los Angeles Kings in the final period for a commanding lead in the Western Conference Finals.
The Stanley Cup champion Kings, who now trail the best-of-seven series 3-1, were unable to apply any concerted pressure on the Blackhawks when it mattered most, late in the game, and they now head to Chicago for Saturday's Game Five facing elimination.
A paltry two shots on goal in that final period was never going to turn the tide for the Kings and they dejectedly left the ice after being beaten 3-2 on Thursday, ending a run of 15 consecutive home wins dating back to March 23.
"I don't really know what it was in particular," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, sitting in front of his locker, told reporters about his team's lackluster finish.
"There's just no way we're going to win that third period if we only get two shots."
While Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar produced the only shots on goal by the Kings in that final frame, the home team also paid a hefty price after committing four turnovers and coming up empty-handed with takeaways of their own.
"That's the one thing that (coach) Darryl (Sutter) has been hard on us for right now," said Doughty. "We're making too many turnovers in the neutral zone especially and that was the cause on two of the goals tonight.
"We made turnovers and they came back down on odd-man rushes and scored. That's something that we're not doing a good job at and something, if we want to win, we can't be doing."
Chicago twice came from a goal down in the first two periods before taking the lead for good when right wing Marian Hossa scored with a full-blooded slapshot early in the third.
The Kings, aiming to become the first team to repeat as champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998, always knew they would have their hands full against the top-seeded Blackhawks, who ended the regular season with the league's best record.
"They are an incredibly skilled team," Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said of Chicago. "We're not getting into something that we didn't know.
"And when you turn the puck over like that at the blue lines, with the skill they have, it's only a matter of time before they're going to put one on the scoreboard. Hopefully we learned our lesson."
Scuderi gave a succinct summary of the stranglehold exercised by the Blackhawks during that third period.
"They were just moving the puck north and dumping it in, making us come 200 feet," he said.
"When we did get in the zone, we thought we had some opportunity but we just weren't able to generate enough shots to the goalie. They did a good job in that regard, packed it in and just chipped it up."
While the Kings must win Saturday's game to keep their season alive, the Blackhawks will be banking on home ice and the raucous support of their fans at the Madhouse on Madison to help them reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
"We're going home, we'll be excited," said Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville. "I'm sure the building will be as loud as it's ever been. We're looking forward to it.
"We want to make sure we're playing like we have in (games) One, Two and Four. Speed, everybody contributing. Try to keep the pace, try to make them play defense."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)