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Blackhawks wrap up 'Circus Trip' with win vs. Kings

by Curtis Zupke

LOS ANGELES -- Brad Richards and Corey Crawford helped send the Chicago Blackhawks home from their "Circus Trip" in impressive fashion Saturday.

Richards scored two goals and Crawford made 19 saves for to lead the Blackhawks to a 4-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. The Blackhawks finished their six-game road trip 5-1-0 and won the first game against the Kings since the Western Conference Final, a riveting series won by Los Angeles in seven games.

"Halfway through the trip we were right around a playoff spot or kind of on the bubble," Richards said. "We talked about trying to gain ground, gain momentum going into the second 20 games, and we did a great job of that coming together here. Big tests, really all good teams as we went through it. We piled up five out of six, which is huge."

Richards didn't have any points on the trip until the final two games, but has shown chemistry with linemates Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg in his first season with the Blackhawks. He played a season-high 19:04.

"Every day feels more like it's my team," Richards said. "It takes a little bit to feel like you're a part of everything. On the ice, off the ice, you're getting to know people. … We all want to be perfect right from Day One. Sometimes it just doesn't happen. Luckily I've been around a long enough to know it's a long season and right now I'm getting a lot of help from my teammates and my linemates. It's feeling a lot more like home."

Crawford, who made his 14th straight start and played every game in November, backstopped Chicago to a back-to-back sweep of the Kings and Anaheim Ducks. He managed early and late pushes and made Chicago's opening scoring spree hold up.

Crawford shrugged off any notion of fatigue. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville gave him full marks.

"This was a special trip for him. Game in, game out, two back-to-backs," Quenneville said. "He gave us a chance every night. He was rock solid."

The Kings were missing significant pieces from last season's Stanley Cup run; right wing Marian Gaborik (upper body) and defenseman Alec Martinez (finger) did not play. Their sparkling home record (10-3-1) took a rare regulation loss, and Kings goalie Jonathan Quick suffered his first loss at Staples Center since the season opener.

Los Angeles committed 14 giveaways, an atypical game for a team known for puck possession. Kings coach Darryl Sutter mixed his lines and Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson combined for two shots.

"They're the best team in the League and that's clear through the first two months of the year," Sutter said of Chicago. "If you're going to give them two goals, you're probably going to get your [butt] kicked, and that's exactly what happened."

Richards gave Chicago a 3-1 lead when he finished a rush with a tap-in of Michal Rozsival's pass at 8:14 of the second. The Kings established zone time but got caught when Richards slipped open on the left side.

The Blackhawks restored the two-goal lead after Jordan Nolan's first goal of the season at 5:53 of the second. Nolan deftly tipped Jake Muzzin's end-over-end shot and it trickled through the five-hole of Crawford.

Richards snapped it between Quick's arm and body from the left side at 17:59 after Versteeg won a race to the puck behind the net and fed it to him as Quick hustled to get back in goal. Former Kings forward Daniel Carcillo batted in his own rebound 1:52 into the game.

It was the fourth goal in three games for Chicago's third line of Carcillo, Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw and the second straight game the Blackhawks held a 2-0 lead after the first period, thanks to another strong possession game that is usually a trait of Los Angeles.

"We didn't do a very good job in our own zone," Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr said. "When we're on our game and we're competing and checking properly in our own zone and we don't spend a lot of time there and we're moving out of that zone cleanly and quickly. I think we can do a much better job in that area."

Los Angeles, which scored six power-play goals on Chicago in the conference final, went 0-for-3 against the Blackhawks' top-rated penalty kill. Two of those came in the first period when Chicago led 1-0 and the last came late in the second when the Blackhawks had a 3-1 lead.

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