LOS ANGELES — Corey Crawford’s stick lay in two pieces on the floor of the Blackhawks dressing room, a visceral representation of the the team’s frustration after squandering three one-goal leads in a 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.
On the road against the defending Stanley Cup champions and nursing a one-goal lead, Joel Quenneville felt the Hawks had “a perfect third period going.” Then, all of a sudden, they didn’t.
Tyler Toffoli and Jake Muzzin scored three minutes apart late in the third period against the Hawks’ top line to stun the Hawks and give the Kings a desperately needed victory. Los Angeles had lost four straight and seven of eight entering the game, falling to the fringe of the playoff picture.
“It sucks,” Crawford said, succinctly summing up the feeling in the dressing room.
It wasn’t quite Game 5 of last spring’s Western Conference final, one of the most thrilling games in recent memory, but the latest clash between the last two Stanley Cup champions was pretty good all the same. Usually is when the Hawks and Kings get together.
“It seems like every time we play them, that’s the type of game that’s out there,” Quenneville said. “It’s a hard game, it’s fast, it’s quick, and things happen.”
And they happen quickly. With the Hawks up 3-2 on Andrew Shaw’s early third-period goal (set up by a strong charge through the center of the ice by Teuvo Teravainen), they kept pushing the pace and didn’t sit on the lead. But with less than seven minutes left in the game, both Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews had chances to clear the puck out of their zone but couldn’t. Toffoli got the puck in the high slot and fired a shot past Crawford, who was bumped by Jeff Carter (who had the Kings’ first two goals) in the process.
Crawford was furious after the play, shattering his stick.
“I’m not going to talk about that because I’m probably going to get [bleeping] fined or something, so move on to another question,” he said when asked about it.
Less than three minutes later, Toews lost a faceoff in the defensive zone and Jake Muzzin’s shot from the blue line appeared to tick off of Niklas Hjalmarsson’s stick before beating Crawford.
“We played 55 solid minutes of hockey and our line is obviously looking at ourselves after that one,” Toews said. “All three of us could have been a little more intelligent in our zone, getting the puck out and not giving them those chances to score late in the game.”
Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp scored in the first period for the Hawks, who led 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 before losing. It was reminiscent of the back-and-forth Western Conference final last season. In Game 7, the Hawks lost leads of 2-0, 3-2, and 4-3 before falling in overtime against a Kings team that just never seems to die.
“It was looking pretty good for us with that 3-2 lead late in the third,” Toews said. “Just found a way to blow it.”