Hawks take pleasure in dropping Kings
Maybe it was just the sight of the Los Angeles Kings back on the United Center's ice Monday night that flipped the Blackhawks' internal switch.
Maybe it jogged the Hawks' collective memory and conjured up the old sting of an overtime loss here in Game 7 of the 2014 Western Conference finals last June. Or, maybe it was just time for the Hawks to finally overmatch a desperate opponent fighting for its playoff life.
Whatever the reason, the Blackhawks looked like themselves again Monday night for the first time in months, defeating the Kings 4-1 to sweep a tough set of back-to-back games after winning Sunday in Winnipeg.
"We try to play hard every night, but obviously when you know you've got the Stanley Cup champions coming into your barn and (have) a chance to destroy some of their momentum of trying to get into the playoffs, that's something that you want to do," said defenseman Johnny Oduya, who had 3 hits, blocked 4 shots and finished with a plus-3 rating.
"For us, it was just trying to play hard and get points."
Three straight goals in the last two periods combined with stellar goaltending by rookie Scott Darling (31 saves) made sure that happened for the second straight game.
Bryan Bickell and the Kings' Jake Muzzin each scored in the first, but the Blackhawks took control on goals by defensemen Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson in the first 2:41 of the second for a 3-1 lead.
Marian Hossa, who finished with a goal and an assist, scored late in the third for the final margin.
Playing for the third time in four days and the second time in a 24-hour span, the Hawks were supposed to be the team gasping for air and lagging behind. Instead, they carried the attack for almost the entire game.
The opponent might have had something to do with their energy boost. It was the first time the Kings returned to Chicago since breaking the Blackhawks' hearts last spring, the second of back-to-back conference finals in which the teams faced off.
A rivalry has developed, and it usually means good hockey whenever they meet.
"We're always excited to play these guys now," Keith said. "I think it's that way with them, too.
"We've played these guys in the playoffs a lot. We have a lot of respect for their team and organization, so it's always an exciting game against these guys."
It's also hard-hitting. Players from both teams probably will feel the aftereffects of this game Tuesday, as each side delivered a series of bone-crunching body blows during puck battles.
Hossa just barely sidestepped one such attempt by Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr late in the second.
"It seems like they like to play physical, and sometimes when we play the Kings the intensity's higher," Hossa said. "When you get the chance, you finish your checks. There were a few times when I finished mine, and it's just part of the game."