CHICAGO — While it’s inevitable that all good things must come to an end, the Kings’ long-sustained excellence ended with a thud Sunday against the defending Stanley Cup-champion Blackhawks.
Chicago showed why it’s the NHL’s top-ranked team by scoring three times in the first period, including once while short-handed, and cruised to a 3-1 victory at the United Center to snap the Kings’ six-game winning streak and several other impressive runs.
The Kings entered this rematch of last spring’s Western Conference final with the NHL’s third-best record and with the springboard of a 5-2 victory at Ottawa on Saturday. The Blackhawks, by contrast, had been thrashed at Toronto, 7-3, on Saturday and they arrived back in Chicago well after the Kings did.
But the Blackhawks were -- and are -- champions for a reason. They came out flying Sunday, and their first-period push ended the Kings’ streak of not giving up a first-period goal in 18 straight games, and of giving up two goals or fewer in 18 straight contests. It also led to only the Kings’ second regulation loss in 19 games (13-2-4). The other was to Calgary on Nov. 30.
Defenseman Alec Martinez scored the Kings' only goal, with 3:54 left in the third period, from a sharp angle on the left side.
The loss wrapped up the Kings' trip at 3-1-0, still solid but not what they had hoped for after winning at Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. Goaltender Ben Scrivens made 37 saves in his first start since Dec. 2 against St. Louis. Rookie Martin Jones had started the previous five games.
Willie Mitchell was missing from the Kings’ defense corps Sunday, for the first time this season. Coach Darryl Sutter said Mitchell was sick and had stayed at the team’s hotel in Chicago instead of going to the United Center. Mitchell was replaced by Matt Greene, who was activated off injured reserve last week after his recovery from an upper-body injury. He had been injured on Nov. 2.
The Kings felt Mitchell’s absence on their penalty killing, but it was actually their power play that let them down and opened the floodgates to a three-goal first period for the Blackhawks.
Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya was in the penalty box when Jonathan Toews outworked Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin to win the puck behind the Kings’ net and quickly passed it in front to Marian Hossa. He didn’t miss from close range, accounting for the third short-handed goal scored against the Kings this season.
Kris Versteeg, recently reacquired by the Blackhawks from Florida, increased Chicago’s lead to 2-0 at 9:59. He broke in on the right side with Michal Handzus on a two-on-one and elected to shoot, and although Scrivens got a piece of it that wasn’t enough to keep the puck out of the net. Patrick Kane got an assist, extending his scoring streak to nine games. He has four goals and 17 points in that span.
Patrick Sharp ended the Kings’ two-goals-against-or-fewer streak at 19:31. Jarret Stoll was sent off for cross-checking at 19:18, and Chicago didn’t need much time to set up its power play. Toews, in the left circle, faked a shot before passing to Sharp, who beat Scrivens from the right circle.
The second period was flat and the third uneventful, with the Kings apparently marking time until their flight back home to Los Angeles.
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