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LOS ANGELES – Duncan Keith’s absence was going to hurt, there was no doubt about that.
But the Chicago Blackhawks weren’t focusing on their lineup loss heading into Game 4 of the Western Conference Final. It was about gaining something on the ice, enough of an advantage that, if they played the team defense they were capable of, they could put the Los Angeles Kings’ backs to the wall.
Marian Hossa’s wicked shot gave the Blackhawks a lead 1:10 into the third period, and the defense did the rest as they beat the Kings 3-2 at the Staples Center Thursday night. The Blackhawks now have a 3-1 series lead heading back to Chicago, as they handed the Kings their first home loss of this postseason.
Bryan Bickell scored his eighth goal of the postseason and Patrick Kane scored to end a seven-game goal-less drought.
For the Blackhawks, it was back to the team mentality, something that was sorely lacking in Game 3. To withstand another Kings push without Keith, who was suspended a game for his high stick on Jeff Carter, they needed everyone contributing, everyone on board defensively. And once Hossa gave them the lead, they got that.
“We played really well after we scored the third goal there. Just solid,” said Niklas Hjalmarsson, who logged just under 25 minutes and had two assists to celebrate his 26th birthday. “We chipped pucks down and the puck just went to their end pretty quick, so we didn’t have to play much in our end. We had a lot of confidence there.”
The Blackhawks just shut the Kings down in the third period, ramping up their defense with whatever personnel was on the ice. The Kings had just two shots in that final frame, and one of them was with 1:17 remaining in regulation. That shut-down included a penalty kill without Michael Frolik, who was penalized in the game’s final five minutes. Defensemen loaded up on the necessary minutes. Michal Rozsival, who played 15:54 in Game 3, played 25:28 in Game 4.
“Some guys logged a lot of minutes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “They had a good gap, got some clears (in the third period). The defense in front of Crow and Crow combined to do an outstanding job. That’s a tough team to shut down like that, but those guys deserve a lot of credit.”
Brent Seabrook said Keith’s absence was obviously tough, but that the Blackhawks got back to what’s worked for them throughout.
“We talked about it all season, especially in the playoffs: our team game, team defense is what’s been doing such a great job and Crow in the net making big saves,” said Seabrook, who played a team-high 26:20 with three hits and three blocked shots. “When our forwards come back the way they are it makes it easier for us. We’re just trying to get back there quick and get outlet passes for our forwards to go with the puck.”
The Blackhawks did have to battle, of course. Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, who’s had a tremendous postseason, was at it again early, scoring his sixth goal of the postseason for an early lead. But the Blackhawks’ own postseason star, Bickell, had the equalizer about 10 minutes later, a wrister that Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick should’ve had, but just got a piece of. Dustin Penner reestablished the Kings’ lead about two minutes into the second, but Kane scored, batting a Bickell shot through, with 1:39 remaining in the second.
“I told Bicks I was sorry I stole it from him,” Kane said with a laugh. “This was huge, especially with how they’re playing at home. They won 15 in a row at Staples Center (dating back to the regular season), so it’s nice to steal one, for sure.”
With one of their best defensemen gone, the Blackhawks put their best defensive foot forward, especially in the third period. They’ll get Keith back in Game 5. But the mentality and teamwork will continue regardless of the lineup.
“We’re not about individuals. The whole team has been pulling on the same rope all season,” Rozsival. “It’s great to see all the guys contributing, even if we’re missing a guy like Duncs. But it’s important to have him back.”