Sports Hockey


Blackhawks take commanding lead in West final

Randy Sportak


(REUTERS file)

(REUTERS file)



Sure, the Los Angeles Kings rebounded after losing their first two games of the playoffs.

They regrouped in time to eliminate the St. Louis Blues in the opening round.

The reigning Stanley Cup champs find themselves in the exact same position in the NHL's Western Conference final after Sunday's 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, but the hole looks much deeper this time around.

Like Marianas Trench deep, since the Kings are not giving any reason to believe, as good as they are, they're capable of climbing out of it against a Chicago team that's rolling.

“We’re going to be frustrated for maybe five or 10 more minutes. Maybe again tomorrow when we go over the video,” Kings forward Dustin Penner said. “As a team, we’re able to bounce back. If we weren’t able to, we wouldn’t be in this position. We’ve done it before against St. Louis. We’re going to start getting excited tomorrow, because we have two games in L.A.”

The Game 2 beatdown, which gives the Hawks a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series, put on full display all of Chicago's strengths and all of the Los Angeles weaknesses.

The Blackhawks, who romped to the Presidents' Trophy with the NHL's best regular season record, were too fast, too skilled and too much for the Kings, who must regroup when they return home for Game 3 Tuesday at the Staples Center.

To think, not long ago the Hawks were on the verge of being eliminated by the Detroit Red Wings.

“It’s huge for us,” captain Jonathan Toews said of the wins on consecutive nights to start the series. “We expected them to be better than they were in Game 1 and they were. We raised our play, too. We made some tiny little mistakes (early) … but we corrected that and stayed with our game that we wanted to play.”

If you're looking for the perfect recipe for a playoff win, the Blackhawks had almost every ingredient.

Need a quick start to get things cooking?

Andrew Shaw opened the scoring less than two minutes into the affair to the delight of a sold-out United Center.

Need a pinch of ability to overcome adversity?

The Kings controlled most of the opening frame, but Brent Seabrook doubled the Chicago lead in the final minute of the period.

Need a dash of top-level goaltending?

Blackhawks netminder Corey Crawford, something of an afterthought compared to his Kings counterpart, came up with clutch saves while it was a one-goal game.

Need killer instinct for some topping?

Bryan Bickell and Michal Handzus scored just over two minutes apart before the game reached the midway point to make it a 4-0 affair, chasing star Kings goalie Jonathan Quick to the bench in favour of Jonathan Bernier.

“He's a great goaltender,” Kane said of Quick. “I'm sure he'll be ready and back for them next game. We still have our work cut out for us. He's a big challenge for our team.”

By comparison, the Kings, who went without top scorer Mike Richards after he was clobbered by David Bolland late in the series opener, continue to struggle on the road, having lost six of seven away outings in these playoffs.

They continue to struggle scoring goals, too.

Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli scored when the game was out of reach, but the Kings have been held to 11 goals in their last seven outings.

Crawford made 29 saves for the Blackhawks, who have now won five straight games in these playoffs. Plus, he stepped in to aid Toews when he was tangled with Kyle Clifford during a third-period scrum.

“I wasn't expecting that, it should be the other way around,” Toews said. “But it's playoff time and he's showing his true colors that he's going to step in and help a teammate out no matter what. It's a pretty cool thing to see your goaltender get in like that.”

“The guy grabbed him, got a couple free shots. I figured it was enough. I just decided to go in there and grab his head,” Crawford said with a shrug.

Quick stopped 13 shots before being hooked, having surrendered four goals in a playoff game for the first time since the 2011 playoffs.

Bernier made nine saves in his relief appearance for the Kings, who can hope a return to southern California, where they've won all seven playoff games this spring and 14 outings going back to the regular season, will change their fortunes.

“We just haven’t been finding a way. We have to find a way,” Quick said. “They did their job. Now we have to go home and do our job.

“That’s what we’re going to do, try to cut this half on Tuesday and go from there.”

On Twitter: @SunRandySportak


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