LOS ANGELES -- Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews issued a pregame directive to his team Saturday: He wanted his teammates to have the fire in their bellies from melting down in Game 2, but combined with the poise in their mind shown in winning Game 1.
Then he went out and showed them what he meant, scoring two goals in the first period and turning in a dominant 20-minute performance.
Unfortunately, not enough of his teammates followed the lead of their No. 1 center, and slowly but surely, the Los Angeles Kings dampened the spark produced by Toews, rallying for a 4-3 victory in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final at Staples Center.
The Kings now have a 2-1 lead in this best-of-7 series. Game 4 is here Monday (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
The Blackhawks have some questions to answer before that game.
How have they allowed 10 goals to the Kings in the past 82 minutes of playing time?
What has happened to Chicago’s once-dominant special teams?
Why are they playing so poorly away from the United Center?
But the most important question to answer is why the other 17 skaters did not match the intensity of their captain, who had a shorthanded goal to open the scoring and then added a highlight-reel goal in-close later in the period to counter a power-play goal by Los Angeles defenseman Slava Voynov and give Chicago its second lead of the game?
"He's special," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Toews. "I think his work ethic is contagious. We've got to make sure we all look to play as hard as he does."
It's not as simple as breaking out the elite-player card, however, to explain why there weren't more people reaching the bar set by Toews. From the time Kings forward Justin Williams scored a "lucky" goal in the dying minutes of the second period in Game 2 to start a six-goal onslaught, the Kings have been the better team in virtually every area.
"We're going to keep pushing for that next level," Toews said. "That's what it's going to take against these guys. They want it really bad. They're playing hard."
By contrast, the Blackhawks have not matched that desperation regularly in the past four periods and, as a result, they are down in the series.
"We must be stronger on the puck and play every second and those little details right now," Chicago forward Michal Handzus said. "They're doing a better job than us."
Saturday night, there were so many examples.
In the third period, Tanner Pearson negated a pair of icing calls by outracing Chicago's defense. Neither effort resulted in a goal, but each led to three quality scoring chances.
On Chicago's third and final penalty kill of the night, the Blackhawks allowed all three Kings forwards to encamp within a foot of goalie Corey Crawford. Again, a goal did not result, but the Kings scored two seconds after the penalty expired when Drew Doughty blasted a shot past Crawford. An unattended Dwight King was so close to the Chicago goalie that it was near impossible for Crawford to see the incoming missile.
As Doughty raised his hands in celebration, Crawford showed the slightest flinch of frustration, slamming his stick against the top of his pads.
He had plenty of company in that exercise. Nobody in the Chicago room is happy. They are not playing Chicago Blackhawks hockey. They have blown leads, struggled on special teams and lacked discipline.
SOG: 27 | +/-: 5
In the first period, Handzus took a penalty for closing his hand on the puck in the offensive zone, more than 180 feet from his own net. Toews scored on a shorthanded breakaway, but 50 seconds later, Voynov tied the game.
"It's a penalty and I shouldn't touch the puck like that," Handzus said.
Those kinds of penalties are happening far too often against a Kings team that has clearly put the Blackhawks under duress and on the defensive.
"We have to stay out of the box," Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith said. "We've talked about it; they're penalties we can't take. There are some you have to take sometimes, sometimes it's an accident, but they're scoring on the power play."
Los Angeles used two power-play goals to fuel their rally in Game 2.
So what is the answer for the Blackhawks?
As usual, they are looking to their captain for guidance. And as usual, Captain Serious is ready to show them the way out of this dangerous situation, just like he was Saturday night.
"We need to be the best we possibly can be," Toews said. "We've shown we can do that in the past. The tougher the situation, [the harder] we're going to come to play. The motivation is right there in front of us now. There's nothing left to think about, just go out there and play and give everything you've got."
It's a simple proposition, but the question remains: Can his Blackhawks teammates follow the lead of Toews?