Kings try to meet elite feat but lose to Chicago, 3-2 – LA Times

By Helene Elliott
Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Chicago

Any point is a good point at this stage of the season, the Kings agreed, but after playing well in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Blackhawks at a lively United Center on Wednesday, they realized there’s still a larger point for them to make.

The Blackhawks, though still not sure who their starting goaltender will be in the playoffs, clearly are an elite team and have matched San Jose atop the West with 93 points. They took 43 shots at Jonathan Quick and won after Dave Bolland pounced on a bad backhand pass by Brad Richardson at center ice and fed Patrick Sharp for a breakaway, a chance Sharp converted for his second goal of the game two minutes and eight seconds into sudden-death play.

Excluding the Blackhawks’ domination late in the second period, the Kings — still a team on the rise — matched the Blackhawks speed for speed, toughness for toughness, hit for hit.

Does that mean the Kings are an elite team now too?

Most Kings said the description fits, and with good reason. They’re a solid fifth in the conference. They took the Blackhawks, the NHL’s second-best home team, to overtime in a hostile environment.

But Quick believes there’s still one more step for the Kings to ascend before they can rank among the NHL’s best.

“You can’t really put that label on a team until you see what they do in the playoffs,” said Quick, who credited Sharp for making a good move to beat him on the final goal, the Kings’ third loss in four games.

“We’re going to battle to get in there and then we’re going to battle when we get in there.”

They battled Wednesday with their fists and their will, killing off a five-on-three Chicago power play that lasted 1:41 midway through the first period. Sharp had already scored the first goal by rebounding Adam Burish’s attempted wraparound at 2:34, and another goal might have put the Kings in too deep a hole.

The Kings pulled even at 4:58 of the second period, after Sean O’Donnell made a good play to keep the puck in at the left point and Dustin Brown walked out from behind the net to wrap the puck past Antti Niemi on his backhand.

“They’re a high-powered offense,” Brown said. “I’m not sure if we have quite the offense that they do but we have a sound defense and it was a fun game to play in.”

The Kings took a 2-1 lead at 6:50, while on a power play they gained when Jonathan Toews was sent off for interfering with Quick. The Kings moved the puck around the zone well and capped the sequence when Drew Doughty passed it to Anze Kopitar, who moved into the right circle before firing a wrist shot past Niemi from about 35 feet.

That didn’t last long. Chicago took advantage of a bad clearing pass by Kings defenseman Matt Greene to tie the score at 2 at 8:25, when Kris Versteeg flicked his own rebound past a sprawling Quick from about 18 feet out. Greene was minus 2 for the game and Randy Jones was minus 3. While plus/minus isn’t an absolute measure of performance, it was in their cases.

“We were playing well,” Kings center Jarret Stoll said. “They tied it up pretty quick after we went ahead and that was probably one of the turning points.”

The next pivotal moment came when Richardson’s pass was snared by Bolland and fed to Sharp, who has 13 goals in 15 career games against the Kings.

“One mistake and it’s in our net,” Brown said. “Those kinds of mistakes happen in a game. We don’t make that mistake, maybe we go to the shootout and maybe we win in overtime. But we battled hard.”

No question, they made that point.

Updated March 10, 2010