Blackhawks lack urgency in Game 4 loss to Kings

Ugly first period a disappointing response to series deficit

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LOS ANGELES — For what seemed like an eternity Monday night in an awful 5-2 loss to the Kings, Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook just stood there, helpless, stuck in hockey no-man's land.

At the 9-minute mark of the first period, Seabrook found himself frozen halfway between defenseman Jake Muzzin just above the middle of the faceoff circles and center Jeff Carter in front of goalie Corey Crawford. In that precarious spot, Seabrook tried neither getting in the way of Muzzin's shot nor moving Carter out of the crease. Had Seabrook stayed stationary any longer, a Staples Center usher would have asked to see his ticket.

No image from Game 4 summed up the state of the Hawks better after another stunning turn of events. The Hawks responded to what Jonathan Toews termed a "must-win game" by not responding until it was too late, answering urgency with ineptness and desperation with indecision.

"It's frustrating," Toews said in an understatement.

As the puck whizzed past Seabrook for the Kings' first goal of a forgettable night, he looked as bewildered as everybody felt watching back in Chicago. Seabrook's body language was screaming as loudly as the Kings fans waving white towels. What just happened? How do you stop it? Where do the Hawks go from here? Instead of building momentum to take back home for Game 5, the Hawks created more questions than answers.

"It's not a good position," Patrick Kane said in a dressing room surprisingly more upbeat than angry. "Coming into the series, I'd be lying if I thought we'd be in this position."

Every series produces a moment when everybody realizes which is the more complete team. It sure felt like that moment arrived in the first 20 minutes that represented the Hawks' most disappointing period of the postseason. In the previous two games, the Hawks saved their worst for last with consecutive third-period breakdowns. They got that out of the way early.

"It wasn't for lack of trying," Toews said.

If not effort, something was lacking. As Pharrell's "Happy" blared from the arena speakers postgame, Hawks President John McDonough walked down a hallway with a grim expression. The contrast was just as stark on the ice.

The Hawks supposedly have more speed yet somehow keep getting beaten to pucks. The Hawks are the team with more star power, but we keep hearing the Kings' big names making the biggest difference. The Hawks never let their minds leave la-la land during their trip to LA, which was evident from the opening goal.

Muzzin set it up by pushing Marian Hossa into goalie Jonathan Quick to draw a penalty, creating the power play on which he capitalized. Of course, Quick fell so convincingly that a Paramount Pictures executive should have offered him an audition afterward.

Only 2:13 after Seabrook's statue routine, the Kings capitalized on another mistake. Anze Kopitar picked Duncan Keith in his zone and threw the puck at the net, where Marian Gaborik knocked it past Crawford.

By the time Dustin Brown tapped in a power-play goal to make it 3-0, the Hawks had done enough watching to be counted among the attendance of 18,648. It made all those dynasty discussions around town a week ago seem silly. It made Game 1 sound like the good, old days.

Trying to recapture the past, coach Joel Quenneville again juggled his lines. He put Toews with Kane and Bryan Bickell with the idea of raising Kane to the level he reached last year beginning in Game 4 of the conference finals.

This can be a tough town for sequels, so the Hollywood ending the Hawks hoped for never materialized. Bickell knocked in the Hawks' second goal with 10:31 left, but the top line never recorded a shot in the decisive first period, when it mattered most.

Quenneville also tinkered with the punchless power-play unit, but nothing worked as the Hawks defied Toews' pregame promise that his team was ready to bring it. The only thing the Hawks brought was more doubt. Suddenly, their swagger resembles a stagger.

"Find a way," Keith said. "All we have to do is win one game."

Until the Hawks lose a fourth game, it remains plausible to believe in their ability to rally from any deficit. They have earned that benefit of the doubt, and their collective resolve makes that suggestion more understandable than outlandish.

But the Kings possess offensive firepower the Blues and Wild didn't have. They have more talent and experience than the 2013 Red Wings, who blew a 3-1 series lead to the Hawks. In the words of Kane, the Kings "are better than they were last year." Winning three straight against this team will require every ounce of energy the defending Stanley Cup champions have left.

And there was little mettle to detect as the Blackhawks left California.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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