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Kings miss out on the goods

December 20, 2010|HELENE ELLIOTT | from chicago

The Kings attacked well in spurts, defended well in spurts, and did enough things right Sunday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks to realize that consistency -- or their maddening lack of it -- will determine their fate this season.

"I thought we played a pretty good game," center Anze Kopitar said, "but a pretty good game against these guys is not enough."

The Blackhawks, depleted by injuries but regrouping on the fly, made sure "pretty good" was inadequate for the Kings. Although they clawed within a goal early in the third period and peppered Corey Crawford with 11 shots in the last 20 minutes, they fell, 3-2, and balanced their record on this trip at 2-2 entering Tuesday's finale at Colorado.

"We're pretty disappointed in ourselves here," said winger Kyle Clifford, who drove to the net for an impressive goal that brought the Kings even at 1-1 early in the second period. That good fortune ended 25 seconds later, when Duncan Keith's long shot eluded a screened Jonathan Quick.

"We need to come out and consistently play better as a team. No excuses," Clifford said.

Just as there are no excuses for their up-and-down track.

They sprinted to a 12-3 start, then lost seven of eight. They earned points in five straight games, including a sterling effort in shutting out Detroit last Monday, but were inconsistent in losing at St. Louis on Thursday, romping at Nashville on Saturday, and losing before a packed house at the United Center on Sunday.

"I thought we played a good third period and created some chances, but just too little, too late," Quick said. "At the end of the day we didn't do enough to get the win."

Defensemen Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty, paired by Kings Coach Terry Murray to shut down the Blackhawks' top line of Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Troy Brouwer, were overmatched. They were on the ice for all five goals Sunday, helpless while Brouwer parked in front of Quick on a disturbingly regular basis.

The wide-bodied Brouwer was in front on Chicago's first goal, a laser-like shot by Toews that deflected off Doughty and past Quick at 11:30 of the first period.

The Kings matched that on Clifford's goal at 1:34 of the second period after a splendid drive from the left wing toward the net. He switched from his forehand to his backhand and ended up on his belly, a play that should have given the Kings a lift.

"That was a very nice goal. That was a real power-forward play," Murray said. "He took it right to the hole. That's a brave thing to do. And then nice hands as he got close to the net. That was a great effort."

But it was followed by a less-than-great effort defensively, as Sharp cut along the left-wing boards and passed back to Keith for a blast that Quick never saw as it flew past him at 1:59.

"It's a little bit of a mind challenge, for sure," Kopitar said, "but we just have to be strong and battle through it."

Said Murray: "We got it to a 1-1 game and they come right back down the ice again basically on the next shift and score the goal. That's been haunting us over the year and came back to bite us again today."

The Blackhawks extended their lead to 3-1 at 12:25 of the second period on a quick transition that ended with Fernando Pisani whipping home a 25-foot shot from the left side.

Wayne Simmonds scored at 1:20 of the third period off assists from Quick and Kopitar when his attempt to jam the puck past Crawford struck Niklas Hjalmarsson's stick and popped into the air and over Crawford, but the Blackhawks held the Kings off after that.

"In this league you've got to play 60 minutes, and that second period was not even close to where we need to play," Kopitar said. "The third one was good again. We were all over them. We had chances.

"But when you're chasing down it's not easy, especially against these guys. ... They're a good team. There's no secret to it. And we're a good team if we play 60 minutes."

An "if" that has become too rare lately.

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