By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Chicago Blackhawks pushed the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings to the brink of elimination from the Western Conference Finals with a thrilling 3-2 victory in Game Four on Thursday.
Top-seeded Chicago twice trailed in a high-energy encounter of hard hits at Staples Center before taking the lead for good when right wing Marian Hossa scored with a slapshot early in the third period.
The Kings desperately tried to counter but the Blackhawks defense held firm, and they withstood a late powerplay before taking a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Fifth-seeded Los Angeles, who won Tuesday's Game Three 3-1, succumbed to their first playoff loss on home ice this season, ending a run of 15 consecutive wins at Staples Center dating back to March 23.
"It's always fun when you win. It's a huge difference, (between) 2-2 coming home and 3-1," Slovakian Hossa told reporters. "We battled, found a way to score goals. We are glad we could win in this building.
"We're not finished yet and we have to win one more, which won't be easy. We can enjoy this victory for now but we'll be sure we're ready at home."
Goaltender Jonathan Quick, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player during last season's playoffs, made 25 saves for Los Angeles while Corey Crawford stopped 19 shots for Chicago.
The series shifts back to Chicago for Game Five on Saturday with Game Six, if needed, back in Los Angeles on Monday.
"It was a tough one to lose tonight but we knew we were going to have to win at least one in their rink so we're looking forward to the next challenge," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said.
"It's a big game Saturday night and it's a must-win obviously. We have to have everyone rise to the occasion and be a good team."
The Kings made a strong start on Thursday, defenseman Slava Voynov opening the scoring with a fierce slapshot from long range at 3.28 in the first period, sending the capacity crowd of more than 18,000 into thunderous celebration.
However, the Blackhawks kept applying pressure on the Kings goaltender and tied the score when left wing Bryan Bickell connected with a snapshot that deflected off Quick's left glove at 13.16.
Roared on by their home fans, the Kings regained the lead when left wing Dustin Penner scored with a wrist shot at 2.12 in the second period, his third goal of the playoffs.
With the Blackhawks on a five-on-three powerplay, Quick pulled off a superb save on a slapshot by defenseman Nick Leddy at 6.43 but Chicago again tied the score when right wing Patrick Kane netted with a tip-in at 18.21 in the second frame.
The Blackhawks went ahead for the first time at 3-2 when Hossa, on the rush, scored with a slapshot at 1.10 in the third period, his seventh goal of the playoffs.
The Kings, aiming to become the first team to repeat as champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998, were never able to get back on equal terms.
The Blackhawks won despite missing their top defenseman Duncan Keith, who was serving a one-game suspension for high-sticking Kings center Jeff Carter in Game Three.
"We took a big effort, you miss a guy that plays the most minutes, meaningful minutes, shift-in, shift-out," Blackhawks head coach Joel Quinneville said of Keith's absence.
"Certainly there's a big void without Dunks. I thought we got a good response after the way we played in Game Three."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by John O'Brien)