In the Wake of the News
12:59 AM CDT, June 7, 2013
LOS ANGELES — Outside the Blackhawks dressing room at the Staples Center late Thursday night, Chairman Rocky Wirtz hardly could contain his enthusiasm as he walked down the hallway.
There was a noticeable skip in Wirtz's step as the Hawks took another giant one in the playoffs with a 3-2 victory over the Kings. His smiling face was filled with pride, joy and relief that reflected the feeling of Blackhawks fans everywhere.
California dreamin' indeed.
A 3-1 series lead doesn't mean the Hawks will advance to the Stanley Cup final. But forgive people in Chicago if they use their work computers Friday to check mid-June airfares to Boston.
For the Hawks, a successful trip did not mean good room service at their swanky Beverly Hills hotel and sunny weather. It didn't mean beating LA traffic, unless that involved clearing the crease so goalie Corey Crawford had a better view.
It meant winning one of two games against the Kings in a building where the Kings had not lost since March 23. It meant giving themselves a chance to clinch the Western Conference finals Saturday at the United Center.
It meant finding a way, any way, to win Game 4 despite not having momentum or defenseman Duncan Keith. That's precisely what the Blackhawks did to gain the split they sought before they headed West.
"Our whole team was where we wanted it to be,'' coach Joel Quenneville said. "That's a pretty tough team we shut down.''
In the decisive 20 minutes, the Hawks simply were tougher.
Countrymen Michal Handzus and Marian Hossa, teammates on the Slovakian national team, used that chemistry to combine on the winning goal. Just 70 seconds into the third period, Hossa converted a pretty pass from a patient Handzus to fire a laser past mortal-looking Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.
"He took the defender with him and opened it up for me,'' Hossa said. "He hit me right in my wheelhouse.''
The Kings' best chance to tie came on a power play with 4 minutes, 37 seconds left. But the Hawks killed the penalty without Michael Frolik, in the box, and Keith, on suspension for high-sticking Jeff Carter.
Which put Sheldon Brookbank in the spotlight.
Who? All anybody knew about Brookbank before Thursday was that he had a hockey nickname because Quenneville called him "Brooksy.'' Welcome to the Western Conference finals, Brooksy. Now replace the Hawks' best defenseman. That's all.
Skating like a plodder adjusting to the speed of the playoffs, Brookbank made it too easy to pick out the defenseman who hadn't played since April 27. He was on the ice for both Kings' goals.
At least Brookbank was warned.
"I had to tell Brooksy a couple times, 'Be patient, the (opportunity) could be the most critical time come the playoffs,' '' Quenneville said. "He deserves to be playing.''
As much as Brookbank deserved his chance to log his 6:50, Keith earned his suspension. Retaliatory or not, no player can raise a stick to hit an opponent in the face badly enough to cause 21 stitches without expecting a suspension. Any pregame outcry in Chicago over the NHL decision made no sense. If you want to blame anybody for the Hawks playing Game 4 without one of their core players, blame Keith.
You could argue Slava Voynov never would have scored the Kings' first goal if Keith had been on the ice instead of Brookbank, but that would miss the point. You could blame the Kings' go-ahead goal from Dustin Penner on Brookbank's inability to get position on Penner near the crease, but that would absolve Crawford from failing to cover the puck.
The Hawks should be good enough to overcome the absence of one player and, in the end, they did. Keith's absence brought out the best in Michal Rozsival, who played 25:28, and Johnny Oduya, who earned the commemorative championship belt. Teammates did what teammates are supposed to do under dire circumstances: Step up.
Losing Keith mattered to the Hawks less than finding Patrick Kane, who resurfaced when he tapped in a goal just before it flew past the goal line. Kane dazzled again in the third when he controlled the puck long enough to force Quick to make a glove save seated. Scoring re-energized Kane.
"Kaner wanted the puck,'' Quenneville said.
Kane's goal might have gone in anyway thanks to Bryan Bickell, who deflected a shot from what has become his customary spot in front of the net. It continued a strong night in a stellar series for the breakout player.
"I told Bicksy I was sorry I probably stole that goal from him,'' Kane said.
A victory this big requires no apologies.
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