LOS ANGELES -- For a champion, no detail is too little to escape detection.
For Duncan Keith, the stalwart defenseman of the Chicago Blackhawks and a driving force in the two titles they've won in the past four years, it is the stunning lack of discipline by his team that has caught his attention.
Most people see three penalties for the Blackhawks in the box score of Game 3 of the Western Conference Final and find that acceptable. After all, the Los Angeles Kings took four minors in the game.
But for Keith, those three rules infractions explained, in large part, why the Blackhawks lost 4-3 to the Kings on Saturday and now trail the best-of-7 series 2-1 entering Game 4 at Staples Center on Monday (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
"I think probably the story of the game again is us taking too many penalties and they've got a good power play," Keith said. "If you have to take a penalty, you take it if they're going to score. But we have to stay out of the box."
Of the three penalties Saturday, only one met the criteria laid out by Keith.
Michal Handzus took the first one, in the game's fifth minute, when he closed his hand on the puck at the attacking goal line, almost 180 feet from the net guarded by Chicago goalie Corey Crawford.
Jonathan Toews scored a shorthanded goal with Handzus in the box, but Los Angeles defenseman Slava Voynov answered with a power-play goal 50 seconds later to sap the momentum from the Blackhawks.
"It's a penalty and I shouldn't touch the puck like that," Handzus said.
Defenseman Nick Leddy took the second penalty in the opening minutes of the third. He had an excuse; Handzus had made an ill-advised turnover in the neutral zone, Los Angeles counter-attacked with numbers and Leddy hooked Jeff Carter.
Then, at the midpoint of the third period with Chicago looking to erase a 3-2 deficit, defenseman Michal Rozsival slammed Los Angeles forward Kyle Clifford to the ground at his own blue line. The problem was that Rozsival got his stick up high and Clifford had chipped the puck into the zone.
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty scored the back-breaking goal, and eventual game-winner, two seconds after that penalty expired.
The first and third penalties are the types that must be avoided against a Kings team that is finding a groove with the man advantage. Los Angeles has three power-play goals in the past five periods, and each has helped fuel a rally.
"There's no other way to put it, really," Keith said. "We have to stay out of the box. 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. They have a lot of good players out there. We might want to stay out of the box."
The taking of ill-advised penalties has been nothing new for the Blackhawks this postseason. They have done it against the St. Louis Blues and the Minnesota Wild. The difference, however, is an otherworldly penalty kill saved their bacon when they won each of the first two rounds in six games.
"Penalty kill; without it, we wouldn't be this far," Keith said.
The Kings have found a way to attack the penalty kill and are finding success.
"We use lots of different guys, use different looks," Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said. "Make sure that you're not passing the puck into the net; you're shooting it in there.
"Sounds sort of silly, but screen, tips, rebounds are still the best way to score goals."
The best way for Chicago to counter is to not allow the Kings to have man-advantage situations as much as possible. It means eliminating the lazy or undisciplined penalties that have been creeping into their game.
"We just have to stay out of the box," Keith said "We know better. Just do the job; stay out of the box, everybody. Me too. I've taken penalties throughout the playoffs. That's what it is right now. Just have to stay out of the box."
Author: Shawn Roarke | Director, Editorial