By Adam Hoge-
LOS ANGELES (CBS) The Blackhawks knew the punch was coming.
They just didn’t counter in time.
“I didn’t like our push back,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said after the Blackhawks lost Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals 3-1 to the Los Angeles Kings Tuesday night. “We were looking for more from the outset there. The last 10 minutes was basically the way we should have started. We got out-worked today.”
And now the Blackhawks’ series lead has been trimmed to 2-1 with another game at the Staples Center — where the Kings have now won 15 straight — Thursday night.
An optimist will look at Tuesday’s game and say the Blackhawks still had numerous chances to tie the game late despite not playing well for the majority of the game. A pessimist, however, will be concerned about the lack of energy the Blackhawks showed and start having flashbacks to the hole they dug themselves against Detroit when they played similarly.
Both views are valid to a certain extent, but what was especially worrisome Tuesday was that the Blackhawks knew what was coming and they didn’t respond well.
In other words, the Kings were who they thought they were and they let ‘em off the hook.
“We knew exactly what kind of game that they were going to play,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “They were going to have more confidence and more energy in their own building. We just didn’t bring that same effort and that same pace.”
Quenneville said after the game that the Kings were “heavier on the forecheck”, which is something the Blackhawks said they were expecting and something the Kings openly talked about improving between Games 2 and 3.
Being aggressive in the Blackhawks’ zone was not surprising given the 2-0 lead the Kings were in, but it was somewhat risky because of the what the Hawks can do in their transition game. Of course, when the Hawks are standing still and can’t get pucks out of their own zone, it’s a whole different game.
“They were physical all over the ice,” Toews said, again referring to something the Blackhawks knew was coming. “We just have to keep our feet moving and take hits to make plays. We kind of got flat-footed and we were watching each other a little bit too much. When you’re standing still you’re an easy target for them to come hit you.”
The Kings out-hit the Blackhawks 36-26 in the game and Duncan Keith admitted afterward that Los Angeles was much tougher pressuring the defensemen in its own zone.
And that may have led to what could be a moment bigger than just Game 3.
With 12:02 left in the second period, Keith took a bad double-minor high-sticking penalty when he wacked Kings center Jeff Carter in the face. Keith had lost his glove and when he went to grab it off the ice, Carter poked it with his stick. Acting out of frustration, Keith completely overreacted.
“Obviously I wanted to give him a tap, but not where I got him,” Keith said. “I felt bad. I’m glad to see that he came back.”
Television cameras showed Keith immediately apologizing to Carter on the ice, but that might not be enough to save him from league discipline.
“I have no idea,” he said when asked if he thought the NHL would look at it. “I said it was an accident.”
Kings head coach Darryl Sutter disagreed.
“It’s retaliation with a stick. It’s not a high stick,” he said. ”Whatever they want to call it, they’ll call it. Don’t even need video.”
A one or two game suspension can’t be ruled out and that would be a big blow to the Blackhawks as Keith has a goal and nine assists in the playoffs. Even worse, it could be coupled with an injury to fellow defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, which was suffered when he blocked a shot off his knee in the third period.
Quenneville downplayed the injury after the game as Hjalmarsson did finish the game, but it could be one of those contusions that gets worse after it stiffens up.
The good news, however, is that the Blackhawks still managed to stay in the game until the end and if it wasn’t for a great save by Jonathan Quick on Bryan Bickell in the final minutes, Game 3 was likely headed to overtime.
Still, it is somewhat bewildering that the Blackhawks could not get off to a strong start at the Staples Center Tuesday night, especially considering a late-arriving crowd kept the building quiet early in the first period. Instead, the Kings were able to score first and remain undefeated at home in the postseason.
But if the Hawks need a boost of confidence, they can just listen to their opponent’s head coach.
“We’re just trying to make sure they don’t win easy,” Sutter said.
That right there is a coach with a realistic look at what he’s up against.
And easy or hard, the Blackhawks just need two more wins in four chances to move on.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHoge and read more of his columns here.