Your best players have to be your best players. That’s a Stanley Cup playoff mantra. A playoff rule.
Problem was, most of the Blackhawks best players were their worst when it mattered most in Game 4 of their Western Conference finals.
That starts with Jonathan Toews, who turned over the puck in his own zone to set up the Kings’ first goal.
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Duncan Keith looked like an amateur after getting stripped in the right corner by Kings center Anze Kopitar, who then found the playoffs’ leading goal scorer, Marian Gaborik, in front of Corey Crawford because Brent Seabrook was too slow to get back to prevent the second goal.
Then Patrick Sharp lost his poise and drew a penalty that led to more pathetic Hawks penalty killing and the Kings’ third goal. In 6:04. In the first period.
That’s your captain and two alternate captains making painful and obvious mistakes in a critical playoff game. They’re supposed to lead. They’re supposed to make the right plays. They’re supposed to make the big plays.
Instead, they failed to start the offense while they were killing the Hawks defensive game.
The Hawks blew two early power plays. Then they blew two penalty-killing situations. There’s your game.
The Hawks went 0-for-3 on the power play in Game 4 and have failed on 23 straight power plays on the road in the playoffs. Hawks penalty killers gave up two goals in three chances in Game 4 and have allowed five power-play goals in the last eight shorthanded situations.
The special teams feature the Hawks best players. Most of the ice time features the Hawks’ best players.
If you didn’t know the names on the back of the sweaters, you wouldn’t know the Hawks had any best players in Game 4.
Trying to find some offensive dominance, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville reunited Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell -- the line that owned the Kings in last year’s playoffs.
They didn’t get a shot in the first period. Thanks for playing the game.
Bickell eventually scored, but it came late and didn’t mean much and so, the Hawks are on the verge of summer.
And don’t tell me this is like last year when the Hawks were down three games to one to the Red Wings. In fact, don’t tell anyone. Don’t let anyone know how silly you can sound.
Because this is nothing like last year. This is a later round and a better opponent.
The Wings were a charade. The Kings are legit. The Kings are deep and good and bring a far better goaltender. Last year’s Wings had more reputation than depth. They had gotten as much as they were going to get from their roster, and even then, it took the Hawks two overtimes to win Game 7.
This Kings team is different. These Kings are deeper than last year’s Western Conference finals team that lost to the Hawks. They have more talent, better goaltending and are more dangerous. They are faster, and they have destroyed the Hawks in bunches on a regular basis.
The Kings came back in the third periods of Games 2 and 3. The Kings blew the Hawks into the Pacific Ocean in the first period of Game 4. The Kings are quicker to the puck and better offensively. The Hawks usually do that other teams. They have found no way to stop it.
Quenneville was asked before Game 4 whether he saw fatigue in his team. He firmly answered no. OK. Fine. Then this is just a disaster of their own making -- a disaster of their best players’ making. The defending champs, then, have just developed a knack for turning bad and brain-dead at the worst possible times.
It’ll take a miracle to make that dynasty talk seem anything except lunacy.