By Jahmal Corner
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Kings unleashed an early onslaught to blow away the Chicago Blackhawks in a 5-2 win on Monday that moved them to within one victory of the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Kings stormed ahead with three first-period goals that whipped the home Staples Center crowd into a frenzy, and held on to grab a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference Finals series.
In a match-up between the past two Stanley Cup champions, the Kings have looked the sharper of the teams in the last three contests and can eliminate the Blackhawks with a Game Five victory when the series shifts back to Chicago on Wednesday.
"The last (win) is always the toughest one," Kings center Anze Kopitar told reporters after finishing with two assists.
"We're going to their building and we're going to have to bring our best. Hopefully, we can continue (to play well)."
A series victory would serve as sweet revenge for the Kings after they were defeated by the Blackhawks in five games at the same stage of the playoffs a year ago.
On Monday, Jake Muzzin, Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown all scored in the first period, and Drew Doughty added another in the second to carry Los Angeles into a 4-0 lead.
The first-period surge was a sequence that featured three goals in just four shots against goaltender Corey Crawford, and it clearly knocked the stuffing out of the Blackhawks.
"We're just trying to get people in front of (Crawford)," Los Angeles defenseman Doughty said.
"If he can see the puck, he is going to make the saves."
Los Angeles kept Crawford searching for the puck in the first, when he was completely shielded from Muzzin's score, and fell victim to active sticks in front of the net.
Crawford finished with just 16 saves while Jonathan Quick made 22 in the triumph.
Chicago fought back with a second-period goal from Brandon Saad and a Bryan Bickell effort in the third but that was all they could manage.
A desperate push for goals in the third led to Tanner Pearson scoring an empty-netter in the final minute to punctuate the win for the Kings.
Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane was again held without a score and he has failed to register a goal in any of the four games of the series to date.
However, the Blackhawks' problems appear to be deeper than just Kane's slump in form and they now face the serious prospect of losing a series after winning their previous six.
"You have to make things happen and execute," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "There are no excuses. It's pretty simple."
Meanwhile, the Kings are firing on all cylinders and have undergone a dramatic offensive turnaround.
They entered the post-season as the lowest-scoring team in the playoffs but have been the most prolific throughout them.
Justin Williams added two assists for Los Angeles while red-hot Jeff Carter tallied an assist and has 11 points in five games.
The Kings completed a series comeback from 3-0 down in the first round and 3-2 in the second, but now find themselves in the unfamiliar position of being firmly in control.
The winner of the series will face either the New York Rangers or Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Finals.
(Editing by John O'Brien)