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 nine-minute mark of the first period, Seabrook found himself frozen halfway between Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin just above the middle of the faceoff circles and Kings 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 Blackhawks better after another stunning turn of events. The Blackhawks responded to what Jonathan Toews termed a "must-win game" by not responding at all until it was too late, answering urgency with ineptness and desperation with indecision.
As the puck whizzed past Seabrook for the Kings' first goal of a forgettable night, he looked as bewildered as everybody watching back in Chicago felt. 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 Blackhawks go from here? Instead of building momentum to take back home for Game 5, the Blackawks created more questions than answers.
Every series produces a moment when everybody realizes which is the better or hotter team. It sure felt like that moment arrived in the first 20 minutes of Game 4, which went down as the Blackhawks' most disappointing period of the postseason. In the previous two games, the Blackhawks saved their worst for last with consecutive third-period breakdowns. They got that out of the way early.
The Blackhawks supposedly have more speed than the Kings yet keep getting beaten to the puck. The Blackhawks are the team with more star power, but we keep hearing the Kings' big names making the biggest difference. The Blackhawks never let their minds leave La-La Land during their Memorial Day weekend trip to L.A., which was clear from the opening goal.
Muzzin set it up by pushing Marian Hossa into goalie Jonathan Quick to draw an interference penalty, creating the power play on which he capitalized.
After Seabrook's statue routine, the Kings capitalized 2:13 later on a mistake by another usually reliable Blackhawks defenseman. Anze Kopitar picked Duncan Keith in his zone and threw the puck at the net like winning playoff teams do. Marian Gaborik knocked it in past Crawford.
By the time Dustin Brown tapped in a power-play goal behind everybody with 4:04 left in the first, the Blackhawks had done enough watching to wonder if they would be counted in the attendance total.
Coach Joel Quenneville again juggled his lines to try the combination that worked against the Kings in Game 4 of the 2013 Western Conference finals. He put Toews with Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell with the idea of raising Kane to the level he reached last year, when the same move ended Kane's scoring drought.
The Hollywood ending the Blackhawks hoped for never arrived. Bickell scored the Blackhawks' second goal with 10:31 left, but the top line never recorded a shot when it mattered in the decisive first period.
Quenneville also tinkered with the punchless power-play unit, replacing Patrick Sharp with Seabrook and putting Andrew Shaw in front of the net. Nothing worked as the Blackhawks defied Toews' pregame promise that his team was ready to bring it.
Until the Blackhawks lose four games in a series, it remains plausible to believe in their ability to rally from any deficit, no matter how dire. They have earned that benefit of the doubt, and the pride and resolve in their dressing room makes that suggestion more understandable than outlandish.
But the Kings possess the offensive skill and depth the Blues and Wild didn't in the first two playoff series. They have more talent and experience than the 2013 Red Wings, who blew a 3-1 series lead to the Blackhawks. Winning three straight against this team, which is in its third straight conference finals, 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.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun