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by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings

CHICAGO - It's now 10 games to go for the Kings and prospects for making up ground to claim the final Western Conference playoff berth is getting harder and harder.

Sunday's 4-1 road loss to the Blackhawks left the Kings seven points out of the eighth and last qualifying spot and have seven of their final 10 regular season games on the road.

"It's a big mountain in front of us, we know that," said Kings coach Terry Murray. "We have to have 20 guys playing very good and then you go from there. It's one game at a time."

The Kings (30-32-10, 70 points) had briefly narrowed the deficit to 2-1 on defender Drew Doughty's power play goal at the 16:54 mark of the third period. And they were pressing for the equalizer after goalie Jonathan Quick was pulled to add another skater.

But Chicago (38-22-10, 87 points) made the Kings pay with two empty net goals in the final 66 seconds and make the final score look more lopsided than the game really was.

The first came eight seconds after Quick departed as Chicago forward Patrick Sharp cleared the puck and sent it towards the Kings goal. The puck hit the post and ricocheted in.

Then with 18 seconds left in regulation, Martin Havlat picked up his 24th goal of the season on another empty netter.

The Kings spent nearly one-third of the opening period holding off Chicago's power plays and still nearly escaped unscathed.

They killed off a 5-on-3 Chicago advantage and were successfully handling a 5-on-4 when Sharp beat Quick for a power play goal at the 9:46 mark.

Those early early penalties and Chicago power plays left the Kings temporarily flatfooted.

"You start off the game with (more than) six minutes of penalty killing and that takes you a little while to get unwound," said Murray. "And we did not generate a lot because of their play with the puck."

All told, the Kings were whistled for eight penalties for 26 minutes in the box. Chicago had three penalties for just six minutes, one call in each period. One penalty was a 10-minute misconduct against defender Davis Drewiske.

The Kings didn't get their first power play until the 18-minute mark of the first when Chicago was called for too many players on the ice. The Blackhawks successfully killed off the penalty and the period.

Quick turned back 28-of-30 shots he handled -- sometimes facing an intense flurry in front of the net.

"Quick's played that way pretty much every game this year," said Murray. "He's been outstanding, especially in a situation like this here today when you have a lot of desperation basically on both sides."

While subdued, Quick said he's not ready to throw in the towel.

"We're still fighting for that final spot and we're going to keep focusing on the next game and try to get two points out of that," he said.

The Kings had only three power plays on the day and were outshot 32-15.

But the final power play made up for earlier missed opportunities as Doughty broke the shutout at the 16:54 mark of third period. The goal was Doughty's sixth of the season as Jack Johnson and Kyle Calder assisted cutting the deficit to 2-1.

"Chicago played good defensive hockey and limited our scoring chances," said Quick.

The teams had just one win between them over their last nine days entering Sunday's match. The Kings had a 3-2 overtime win at Boston last Thursday while the Blackhawks came in winless in their last five, including two straight overtime losses.

Despite their recent slump, Sunday's victory helped keep the Blackhawks on track for only their second playoff appearance since 1997. Chicago moved two points ahead of Vancouver for fourth place in the Western Conference. If the NHL playoffs opened today, the Hawks would meet the Canucks in the opening round.

Center Anze Kopitar, the team's assist leader and No. 2 scorer, was shut out on Sunday and missed a chance to earn his 200th career point with the Kings and in the league. Defender Peter Harrold was a pre-game scratch. Had he played, it would have been his 100th Kings and NHL game.

Sunday's Kings loss left the season series with Chicago deadlocked at 2-2 with each team claiming two home ice victories. The Kings outscored the Blackhawks 13-12 through the four matches.

The Kings' six-game, nine-day road swing continues on Tuesday as they eye a four-game season-sweep of the Blues. The teams last met in December in Los Angeles, a 6-2 Kings' victory.

The Kings will also be at Dallas and Nashville this week before returning to STAPLES Center on March 31 to host the Stars.

Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville:
On Sharp’s return:
“He had a lot of time to rehab and I think you have to commend him on his strength and conditioning. He had a jump in his step, helped his line be effective and really gave us a big lift.”

On defensive play:
“I think Khabby looked comfortable and confident. We handled the puck well from the back to the front.”

On Aaron Johnson and Jordan Hendry:
“Overall good job. They were both very dependable and played quite well defensively.”

On the win:
“We needed this win badly, we have had some frustrating losses as of late and I think the win will give us some momentum and the confidence to keep rolling.”

Blackhawks Right Wing Patrick Sharp:
On returning to the ice:
“It was exciting to get back out there, exciting to score a couple of goals and add an assist. But, what is really important is picking up two points.

On the team’s performance:
“We needed the win bad and I think we came out with a lot of energy, handled the puck well and finished our chances.”

On his empty-net goal:
“It looked like a nice piece of skill, but I was just trying to get the puck out of the zone and it bounced in for me.”

Kings Head Coach Terry Murray:
“Chicago deserved to win. They beat us to the puck. It’s desperation time for all teams. Chicago was trying to break a losing streak and they played like it. At the end of the game, they made their own breaks.”

“(Quick) was outstanding. He at least gave us a chance to win.”

Kings Goaltender Jonathan Quick:
“We have to give Chicago credit. They played good defense and limited our scoring chances. They took advantage of their opportunities.”

Kings Captain Dustin Brown:
“We hung in there and had a chance after getting our power-play goal. Then, they got their lucky third goal, which banked off the boards and both posts to go in.”

“You have to give credit to Chicago. They played a tough defensive game. We have to generate more opportunites.”

Compiled by Jack McCarthy | Special to

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