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Between the Dots: Stranger things have happened

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

LOS ANGELES—The following is a public service announcement intended to deter Chicago hockey fans, riven by dejection, from committing any irrational acts:

Did you know that, despite being perhaps 60 minutes from dethroning the Blackhawks and advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, the Los Angeles Kings have incurred a pair of three-game losing streaks this postseason?

They dropped three in a row before staging an epic comeback to dismiss the San Jose Sharks. Then, in their next Hollywood drama, the Kings were beaten three in a row before eliminating the Anaheim Ducks in another series that went the distance.

Regrettably for the Blackhawks, nothing less than a three-peat of sorts will suffice now because the defending champions are in a spot you wouldn’t wish on a leopard after bowing again Monday night, 5-2.

“All we have to do is win one hockey game Wednesday night in our building,” said Duncan Keith. Well, yes and no. The prospect of staging a handshake line in the United Center has to be repugnant for the Blackhawks, but they did somewhat resist resurrecting events of last spring against Detroit. The media took care of that, citing how the Red Wings were 20 minutes from moving on in Game 6 at home, yet could not finish.

One problem, and if we’re veering toward revisionist history, our apologies. At no juncture during that near-upset did the Red Wings appear deeper, faster or better than the Blackhawks. At this moment, the Kings appear all of the above.

The visitors dug themselves a Chicago-style pothole in this Game 4, falling behind 4-0, before halving the deficit on goals by Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell. The Kings are really difficult to rattle with a lead, but in 5-on-5 situations, the Blackhawks manufactured enough offense beyond mid-second period to annoy Head Coach Darryl Sutter. He offered that if his men don’t improve in Game 5, Game 6 might shed its “if necessary” waiver.

Joel Quenneville, as he has done before under stress, put Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane together. Their third was Bickell. Toews went shotless, but that line was not an issue.

Special teams were. The Kings scored twice on power plays in the opening 11:13, by which time the Blackhawks had gathered nil on two of theirs. Jake Muzzin ripped a drive through Corey Crawford, around whom Jeff Carter hovered effectively with the Kings pressing as Marian Hossa sat for goalie interference.

Marian Gaborik, Dustin Brown on a power play, and Drew Doughty piled it on against Crawford, who did not receive much help from his friends. Elsewhere on the pond, the Kings blocked 23 shots and dominated the dots. Jarret Stoll won 16 faceoffs, only eight fewer than the entire Blackhawks delegation.

Peter Regin joined that lineup while Brandon Bollig exited. As is his custom, even with the option to change last, Sutter was not a prisoner to the privilege. He has seemed of a mind to match defensemen — Doughty with Toews, Willie Mitchell with Kane. But with Toews and Kane united, Sutter just let his boys be boys and play on. Sutter’s mantra is that if his entire group can’t beat your entire group, juggling is largely irrelevant.

And are his boys ever playing. But stranger things have happened —as the Sharks and Ducks will attest, wherever they are.

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