LOS ANGELES — Another letdown against the last-place Kings left the Blackhawks one game away from elimination in the wild-card race.
The Hawks blew a one-goal lead with four minutes left in regulation and lost 3-2 in overtime to finish the season series winless against the Kings, who are by far the worst team in the Western Conference.
“We had our stretches where we were really good, [but] you never know when the game’s on the line,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “The game’s always on the line.
“If you let down for five, 10 seconds … you get punished. That’s kind of what happened. Even though we did a lot of good things, don’t matter if you don’t put it all together.”
Both of the Kings’ goals in regulation came on mental mistakes by the Hawks, and they got the game winner after Jonathan Toews was called for a holding penalty with 30 seconds left in overtime. The Kings cashed in on the power play when Drew Doughty drove a long one-time past Corey Crawford.
Toews expressed his anger over the call on the ice, but did not talk to the media after the game. Colliton avoided giving his opinion on it, saying the Hawks should have done more to keep the game from getting to that scenario.
The Hawks are now six points behind the Avalanche for the final playoff spot with four games to play. They face the threat of mathematical elimination Monday, when they host the Jets while the Avalanche play at the Blues.
The Avalanche lead the four-team fight for the second wild card at 85 points, followed by the Coyotes (82), Wild (81) and Hawks (79). The Hawks’ tragic number is three, meaning any combination of points gained by the Avalanche and points missed out on by the Hawks will knock them out.
“Just keep going here until we’re told otherwise,” Patrick Kane said. “Obviously we’re professionals, we play in the NHL and we still have four games left here to try to close out and see what happens. Worry about what we can worry about and try to get two points.”
The Hawks went up 2-1 on Erik Gustafsson’s rocket from just inside the blue line three minutes into the third period. It was his 17th of the season, the most by a Hawks defenseman since Dustin Byfuglien in 2009-10.
Kings center Michael Amadio tied it on an uncontested look in the slot with 4:15 remaining.
“You’ve got to be better,” said Gustafsson, who was on the ice for Amadio’s goal. “You’ve got to close the game. When there’s five minutes left, just ship it out.”
Alex DeBrincat came through for the Hawks after a scoreless first period by sneaking one past Kings goaltender Jack Campbell off his own rebound. It was his third goal in two games after a slump, and he tied Patrick Kane for the team lead at 41.
DeBrincat led the Hawks last season with 28 goals as a rookie.
Kane, DeBrincat and Jonathan Toews all struggled lately, but Kane is the only one who hasn’t gotten going again. He has gone nine straight games without a goal and has two in his last 16. He had eight shots against the Kings after getting just two in each of the two previous games.
“I had some looks, had some chances — even a couple in overtime there,” Kane said. “It would’ve been a perfect time to get one there and end the drought, but yeah, it’s frustrating. You’ve gotta try to grind and battle through it and come back Monday and be ready to go and try to help the team.”
Corey Crawford stopped the first 18 shots he faced before allowing one on Austin Wagner’s breakaway. Toews and Brandon Saad got tangled up in the neutral zone and lost the puck, and Wagner outraced defensemen Carl Dahlstrom and Connor Murphy to get Crawford one-on-one.
Crawford saved 26 of the 29 shots he faced and has been a big reason the Hawks have stayed in the wild-card hunt. In 14 games since returning from a concussion, he has a .919 save percentage and 2.36 goals against average.
Hawks center David Kampf, one of their best defensive players, exited after suffering a facial injury in the first period and did not return. Colliton believed it would not be a long-term injury.
The Hawks got winger Drake Caggiula back after missing more than a month with a concussion, and Colliton scratched Brendan Perlini to make room for him.
Perlini went from being one of the hottest players in the NHL to watching from the press box. He irked Colliton with a lackluster effort against the Sharks on Thursday and got benched for the third period. He played 5:44 that night.
“Work ethic away from the puck,” Colliton said when asked what he wants from Perlini. “Get to full speed without the puck. Find a way to get pucks out of your end and play in the offensive zone and create turnovers by working hard on the forecheck, and the offensive skills will show through.”
Two weeks ago, Perlini was on the best run of his career. He scored eight goals in seven games, including a hat trick against the Coyotes.
The Hawks are now in a position where they need everything to go perfectly in the final week of the season, and that’s highly unlikely. Going 0-1-2 against the Kings certainly didn’t help, but there are plenty of other losses they’d like to have back.
“You build a body of work over the season,” Colliton said. “We put ourselves in a pretty big hole, and we played well for a long stretch that allowed us to be in the race, but it’s still pretty disappointing when you’re obviously in the toughest spot as it gets right now.”