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Between the Dots: Current trend must cease

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

LOS ANGELES—This trend must cease and desist, or the postseason will for the Blackhawks, much sooner than they had intended.

Mind you, after Saturday night’s 4-3 setback, Head Coach Joel Quenneville parsed what he’s witnessed lately and preached a half full doctrine instead of half empty. Granted, he’s biased, and also immunized against panic, though his defending Stanley Cup champions are halfway toward summer.

Coach Q’s arithmetic: his guys have logged seven creditable periods of hockey out of nine versus the Los Angeles Kings. You could say he’s being generous, which is fine. But those other two periods have been abysmal, which is vexing.

There was the third period in Chicago Wednesday night, when the Kings absolutely ran over the Blackhawks. Then there was the second period Saturday night, when Los Angeles outshot their guests, 18-7, scored twice to seize the lead and held it because that’s what the Kings do.

Any resemblance to the Kings of one spring ago is purely coincidental, because this roster is deeper and healthier. That is troubling for the Blackhawks, as is Los Angeles’ world-class goalie, Jonathan Quick. If you had forecast that the Blackhawks would be down 2-1 in this series, you might have guessed that Quick was standing on his headgear.

Instead, while he has been excellent, Quick has reaped the benefits of balanced, booming support. The Kings have 10 goals in the last 82 or so minutes. Not for the first time, and not just in this series, there are prolonged stretches when the skilled, fleet Blackhawks are not the team with better jump or superior speed.

Jonathan Toews cued an impressive takeoff with an unassisted shorthanded goal after he absconded with the puck, leaving Justin Williams in the rearview mirror. Then, at 13:19 of the first period, Toews made it 2-1 despite getting the business down low from Jake Muzzin. But that’s all, folks, until Patrick Sharp clicked in the gloaming, when the parking lot was emptying.

Traffic abetted the Kings’ cause. If Corey Crawford even saw a power-play rocket from Slava Voynov that tied it 1-1, or a laser beam from Drew Doughty for a 4-2 margin, the Blackhawks’ goalkeeper had to be Superman. Meanwhile, the polite Staples Center guests took no such liberties with Quick’s sightlines. The Kings were nailed with three potentially perilous penalties in succession during that middle session — a pair of stick fouls in Chicago’s end, plus a delay of game.

Still the Blackhawks’ power play bombed. Toews, clearly the most enthusiastic visitor, wound up with two shots all night, his two goals. Thus, he never got a shot during his four-plus minutes of manpower advantages. He rarely seemed to touch the puck, save for faceoffs. Speaking of which, the Blackhawks officially won 27 and lost 30. Unofficially, it didn’t seem that competitive in the dots.

Andrew Shaw, as advertised, returned to the lineup. Peter Regin departed. Asked about Shaw, Coach Q said he was “OK.” Of course, in the playoffs, OK is not OK. Quenneville hinted at some line juggling come Sunday’s practice. Hundreds of Blackhawks fans attended Game 3, including Bears’ legend Dick Butkus, who wore a red sweater with his number, 51. He did not look happy.

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