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by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
CHICAGO - There may be 20 games still left in the NHL regular season, but there's a growing sense of urgency surrounding the Kings as they slowly cede ground in their bid to land the final Western Conference playoff spot.

Sunday's 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks didn't help the Kings (26-27-9) as they slipped to 1-3-0 on their current five-game road swing.

"There's a great need for a lot of desperation right now in our schedule and our games," said Kings coach Terry Murray, following what was essentially a one-goal game for nearly all of the final two periods.

"Getting down makes it real hard, especially in this building. That's a pretty good hockey club. That's as good as they've played against us."

The aggressive Blackhawks set the tone as they scored twice within the first few minutes. Center Jonathan Toews collected his team-high 26th goal of the season just 47 seconds into the game on a slapshot and Duncan Keith made it 2-0 on an unassisted goal at the 6:18 mark.

The Kings got one back on a power-play tally by defenseman Jack Johnson at the 8:22 mark, while Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty assisted.

But when Dustin Byfuglien scored at 16:22, the frustration of Quick was evident as he raised both gloves to his face and shook his head.

"I wish I could have that one back," said Quick. "That one ended up being the game winner."

Kopitar scored with 41 seconds left in the period to trim the deficit to 3-2.

"That first period we kind of shot ourselves in the foot," said Kopitar. "We're not winning games, and the bottom line is you have to win games this time of year to get points and we've got to start winning."

Three first-period goals put the Kings and Quick in a hole, but the Kings goalie settled down and handled all but one of the next 24 shots through the second and third periods.

The only miss was with 43 seconds left in regulation when center Dave Bolland scored on a power play with the Kings gambling on the penalty kill, desperately trying to tie the game..

"We fought back there in the first and were down one goal but we just weren't able to get the equalizer in the next two periods," said Quick, who has started 16 of the Kings' last 18 games.

Chicago goalie Antti Niemi picked up his first career victory as he made 22 saves.

"We had our looks," said Murray. "He played good. He made some stops at critical times and I'm sure they're pretty happy with his performance."

The loss left the Kings still six points behind Anaheim and Edmonton (67 points) and needing to leapfrog six teams to land the eighth and final Western Conference playoff slot.

A full 25 percent of the season remains, but only six of the Kings 20 remaining games will be at STAPLES Center.

Kopitar's scoring streak continued on Sunday, although his first period try resembled a rugby scrum. Kopitar picked up his 20th goal with 41 seconds left despite getting tied up with Chicago's Martin Havlat

Havlat knocked the net off its moorings while Kopitar, extending the stick with his right arm, pushed the puck past Niemi. Officials awarded a goal after a video review.

"The puck was laying there and I was trying to reach it," said Kopitar, who now has 19 points in his last 19 games (9 goals, 10 assists). "The first (try) I missed and and the second one I pushed it into the net."

Defensemen Tom Preissing and forward Raitis Ivanans swapped positions on the injured reserve list prior to Sunday's game. Preissing, a 30-year-old native of nearby Arlington Heights, Ill., missed 13 games due to an upper body injury.

Ivanans suffered what was also described as an upper body injury during the second period of Friday's Kings-Red Wings game in Detroit. In 60 games he had two goals and a team-leading 115 penalty minutes.

Much has changed in Chicago since the Kings last visited in late 2007. Owner Rocky Wirtz, who took over following the death of his father, Wiliam, installed a new management team, the team signed exciting young players like Toews, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane and the team started to win again.

The Blackhawks lead the NHL in attendance with a 22,508 per game average and drew 21,386 fans to Sunday's matinee. In 2007, Chicago was next to last with a 12,727 average. They're also likely bound for the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Chicago (35-17-9) is fourth in the overall Western Conference playoff standings.

The Kings close their five-game road trip on Tuesday at Columbus, a team they split two games against in December, winning 3-0 on Dec. 6 and then falling 2-0 on Dec. 29. The match will be Murray's 800th as a head coach.

The Kings return to Chicago on Sunday, March 22 for the finale of the four-game season series. The puck drops at noon (PST) at the United Center. The Kings won two earlier games played in Los Angeles both 5-2 decisions.

Wednesday's NHL trading deadline is expected to pass without any deals by the Kings.

"We're trying to put something together here to get a foundation in place with young players,' said Murray. "This is the group I expect us to have on Thursday."

Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville:
“We skated very well, but the game was tight until (Blackhawks center Dave) Bolland scored the fourth goal late in the third period. I think the players had a good approach to the game. They were focused, patient and checked well throughout the game. (Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi played really well. He made nice saves and definitely earned his first win of the season.”

Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews:
“Going ahead early helped us generate momentum and set the tone for the game. It’s something we weren’t able to do last time we played L.A. Playing with the one-goal lead is always nerve-racking, but we did well, minimized mistakes and created enough opportunities to win the game. I am on a bit of a scoring streak, it seems like every shot I take right now is going in or creating opportunity for a teammate.”

Kings Head Coach Terry Murray:
“Chicago is a great skating team and very skilled. They are very dangerous to play against and they certainly played a lot better here than when we had them in Los Angeles. They have plenty of energy and they could go far in the playoffs. The big difference today was their mobility at the blueline. They have a lot of strength there. We need to play with more desperation.”

“I thought (Blackhawks goaltender Antti) Niemi played very well. He made some key saves on us. We tested pretty well, but not enough.”

Kings Goaltender Jonathan Quick:
“We fought back tonight. I wish I could have had a better look on (Blackhawks right wing Dustin) Byfuglien’s goal. We’ve had a frustrating road trip, losing close games to Detroit, Philadelphia and now Chicago. We have to find a way to win.
Compilied by Jack McCarthy | special to

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