From Chicago — Had the Kings looked up to the rafters of the United Center, they would have seen a shiny new banner commemorating the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup triumph.
Had the Kings looked in the mirror after their 3-1 loss Wednesday, they would have had to acknowledge the distance they must cover before they can be a serious Cup contender.
The Kings controlled the puck for long stretches late in the second period and early in the third and dominated in shots, 34-28. But they gave in to the temptation to make pretty passes instead of scrambling for ugly goals, a weakness that contributed to their second loss on a five-game trip that concludes Thursday at Dallas.
They trailed, 2-1, when Chicago defenseman Nick Boynton was sent off for hooking at 8:03 of the third period but got nothing through the Blackhawks' desperate, diving defense. They hit the crossbar a few minutes later — Alexei Ponikarovsky had his stick in the air in celebration, though replays showed the puck did not cross the goal line — but Patrick Sharp secured the Blackhawks' first win in three games by carrying the puck up the wing and in front before beating Jonathan Bernier with a short wrist shot with 2:05 left in the third period.
"To me there really needs to be an attitude of getting pucks to the net, really making it difficult for the defending team," Kings Coach Terry Murray said of the failed power play, "and I thought we were looking to pass it into the net rather than shooting the puck into the net, and that's a missed opportunity to me."
There's no shame in losing to the Blackhawks, who played well despite losing winger Marian Hossa to an undisclosed upper-body injury early in the second period.
But the best teams consistently find ways to win. The Kings had done that at Colorado and Minnesota without defenseman Drew Doughty, who remains in Los Angeles recovering from a concussion. The Kings had hoped to have him back Thursday, but he had some concussion symptoms at least twice in the last few days and General Manager Dean Lombardi said it's doubtful Doughty will play Saturday against New Jersey at Staples Center.
They came close Wednesday but not close enough against Marty Turco, who signed with the Blackhawks as a free agent this summer after salary cap woes forced them to part with goalies Cristobal Huet and Antti Nieminen.
FOR THE RECORD:
This article, which appeared in Thursday's Sports section, says the Blackhawks parted with goalie Antti Nieminen. The correct spelling of his last name is Niemi.
"Most of the time in L.A. I think he was struggling against us but tonight I thought he was solid," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "He made some key stops.
"It is what it is. He got bailed out by a few posts and crossbars. That's the way it goes sometimes."
Turco, 17-13-9 against the Kings in his career, had given up four goals in losing his previous start last Friday at St. Louis.
"It's great to win against anybody," he said. "But certainly [against] a team that you expect to be there at the end of the year and after some disappointing losses last weekend to come out and play hard and play well … it was a great win, a good effort."
The Blackhawks scored first, at 5:16 of the first period, when center Jake Dowell went outside on Kings defenseman Davis Drewiske and took a backhander that deflected off Drewiske's stick and past Bernier.
"We have tough luck since the beginning of the season, me and him," Bernier said, recalling a goal Drewiske inadvertently deflected past him in a 3-1 loss at Calgary on Oct. 10.
The Kings matched that at 9:34, when Drewiske's hard dump-in caromed off the boards and to Justin Williams, who beat Duncan Keith to the puck and flicked it past Turco.
Chicago pulled ahead at 1:18 of the second period on Viktor Stalberg's backhand rebound of a shot by Keith and might have built a bigger lead if not for two penalty kills by the Kings, who have killed 36 of 40 disadvantages in nine games.
"That's when we took off and took the play to them, but we didn't get any results," Kopitar said.
The key for them to becoming serious contenders is learning how to get around the hot goalie, the bad bounce, the seemingly impenetrable defense. They couldn't do it Wednesday.
"Yeah, you do get frustrated a little bit. You've got to find ways to come back," Williams said. "For every good defense there's always an offensive scheme — we tried to get pucks alive and away from their blocks and stuff like that but we weren't able to get one past Turco."