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Faceoffs remain cause of concern for Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to climb back into this Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings, they have to start winning more faceoffs.

The Kings lead the best-of-7 series 3-1 heading into Game 5 on Wednesday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS) and their advantage at the faceoff dots has helped them stifle the vaunted puck-possession game of the defending Stanley Cup champions, particularly on special teams.

"They've beat us in almost every game this series other than Game 1, [when] it was 50-50," said Blackhawks forward Ben Smith, who's won eight of 15 draws (53.3 percent) for one of Chicago's better percentages. "So definitely [our] centers have to work harder, the wingers have to help them out and find ways to get pucks because we want puck possession. That'll give us a little bit of an edge [in Game 5] if we can do that."

Los Angles has won 137 of 246 draws through the first four games (55.7 percent) and the Kings dominated that area in Games 2 and 4, winning by scores of 6-2 on May 21 at United Center and 5-2 on Monday at Staples Center.

After splitting faceoffs evenly in Game 1 (31-31), Los Angeles won 61 percent in Game 2 and 58 percent in Game 4. The Blackhawks hope getting back on home ice, where the visiting player is supposed to have his stick down first, helps them win faceoffs more often Wednesday.

"Yeah, well, on home ice they're supposed to have their stick down first," Smith said. "So, it's up to us centers to make sure that happens and in Game 2 they crushed us there and that was a big part of it."

The numbers are ugly for Chicago's top center, captain Jonathan Toews. Against the Kings, he's won 40 of 88 faceoffs (45.4 percent), which is down significantly from his 57.2 percentage from the regular season and 55.2 mark overall in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Kings centers Jarret Stoll and Anze Kopitar, in particular, have given Toews problems. In Game 1, a 3-1 Blackhawks victory, Toews only faced Stoll one time in a faceoff and lost it. In Games 2, 3 and 4, Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter has deployed Stoll a lot more against Toews, even putting him out with center Jeff Carter and left wing Tanner Pearson to take the draw before exiting for right wing Tyler Toffoli to finish the shift.

Toews has won just 13 of 35 faceoffs (37.1 percent) against Stoll and is 19 of 41 (46.3 percent) against Kopitar, the Kings' top center.

In Game 4, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville put center Marcus Kruger on the second line instead of the fourth unit, likely hoping to ease Toews' burden against Stoll and Kopitar. Kruger, who won 11 of 16 draws in the first three games (68.7 percent) went just 3-for-10 against Stoll (1-for-5), Kopitar (2-for-4) and Carter (0-for-1), for a 30-percent success rate.

"We got guys that can take draws," Quenneville said Wednesday after the morning skate. "They got four very experienced guys in the circles, good faceoff guys, as well. That's a chore. It's not just the responsibility of our centermen that have to get the job done. It's guys helping along the line."

Either way, it's an area the Blackhawks need to improve in a hurry.

"It's always nice to start with the puck, especially on special teams," Quenneville said. "I think that's the area where our power play [in Game 4] didn't really start with the puck, slowed it down."

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