While the Blackhawks fight through the doldrums, crawling their way into the Olympic break, they got quite the wake-up call Monday night in Los Angeles.
The Kings played desperate after falling behind 2-0 and pounded the Hawks incessantly, catching them with their heads down like they would have had the Kings been healthy in the conference finals a year ago.
The physical play definitely had an effect and the Hawks were starting to look over their shoulders instead of finding the puck, but in the end the Hawks' depth was too much for Los Angeles, despite getting outhit 36-10.
That's the difference between these Hawks and the teams that failed to overcome physical play in the two playoff series (Vancouver and Phoenix) following the 2010 title run. The Hawks have too much offense and are too fast and too deep now, and assuming health -- which remains the No. 1 key -- there's not a team in the West they shouldn't beat in a seven-game series.
Nevertheless, Los Angeles was a loud reminder of what a playoff game is going to feel like when the Hawks face the Blues, Ducks or Kings in April and May.
Once the Hawks woke up Monday, they showed again that they can handle it.
With Marian Hossa off the ice for a shift Monday night, Joel Quenneville threw Patrick Kane out there with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp, and it quickly resulted in Kane's second goal of the night.
That line, what I call the "nuclear option," is terrifying for opponents, and it's something Quenneville does only in desperation during the playoffs. It's obviously effective, but it removes balance from the other lines and it's why Quenneville doesn't like to do it unless he has no other choice.
Still, when it happens, it is something to behold.
Anaheim went on quite a run to reach the top of the NHL standings, but Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau told NHL.com that his club is hardly satisfied and knows his team has won nothing so far.
"It's easy to get complacent when you're winning, but the one thing I've learned in my years in the NHL is you have to keep getting better," Boudreau said. "You can play as good as you can, at the top of your level, but if you don't get better on a monthly, weekly, even daily basis, come playoff time teams will have made the playoffs that haven't played to their potential in the regular season but are really good teams.
"When they lift their game up to the level that they're capable of playing, we better be able to match that. And if we're playing as good as we can in December and January, come April and May teams will rise above that. I constantly remind players of that."
Interesting perspective and something the Hawks remember well from last year's second round against Detroit.
The American men have never won hockey gold without a player from Warroad, Minn., and this year Team USA sports Warroad native T.J. Oshie, who is the eighth Olympic hockey player -- including men and women -- from a city with a population of less than 2,000.
Warroad is six miles from the Canadian border and has as many indoor rinks as red lights (two).
Jay Hardwick, the boys hockey coach at Warroad High School, told The New York Times, "When it's 30 below and there is this much snow, there's not a whole lot to do for kids. You go to school and go to the rink. That's about it."
Also from Warroad is Dave Christian, who won gold in 1980. His father, Bill, and uncle, Roger, won gold in 1960. Gigi Marvin, who won a silver medal with the U.S. women in 2010, will also be in Sochi. She's a high school classmate of Oshie.
Richard Sherman took to Twitter after the Super Bowl and showed a great deal of dignity in defending Peyton Manning.
"Peyton is the Classiest person/player I have ever met! I could learn so much from him! Thank you for being a great Competitor and person," Sherman wrote. "There is no reason to bash him on here please Seattle let's just enjoy this one!!!!"
Only five of the last nine Super Bowl champs have reached the postseason, and the last to win a playoff game was New England in 2005.
If you're pondering the future, especially for the Cubs, consider that the Dodgers will televise a record 22 spring-training games this year that includes a 60-minute baseball show. This is the first year of the Dodgers' $8.5 billion TV package.
Craig Stadler has continued to play the Masters only because he wanted one chance to play with his son Kevin, who won the Phoenix Open Sunday and qualified for Augusta. A former Masters champ and now 60 years old, Craig Stadler says this will be his last time teeing it up at Augusta.
John Elway on the Broncos getting pounded by Seattle: "I'd rather get beat by a late-game field goal than the way we got beat."
And finally …
Omaha World-Herald's Brad Dickson: "Right now it's a tossup whose legacy will suffer the most: Peyton Manning's, Joe Namath's or the cast of Full House."
Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.