Another Miracle…Almost

LOS ANGELES — The concept of playing defense was definitely not the first thing on the minds of the Los Angeles Kings or the Chicago Blackhawks who squared off in front of an announced sell-out crowd of 18,118 fans at Staples Center during a matinee shootout on Saturday.

Jonathan Toews scored a goal and added an assist and Patrick Sharp scored two goals, including the game-winner, and added an assist to lead the Blackhawks to a 6-5 overtime victory over the Kings.

After the two teams played a fairly even first period that ended in a 1-1 tie after Sharp and Kings rookie defenseman Peter Harrold traded goals, the Kings left their game in the dressing room during the first intermission.

Martin Havlat, Andrei Zyuzin, Jonathan Toews and Jason Williams scored easy goals in a span of just 4:06, with three of the goals coming on blatant defensive breakdowns by the Kings, while Toews’ goal was a soft one allowed by Dan Cloutier, who got the start in goal for the Kings.

To be sure, the Kings fell completely apart in the second period, and Kings rookie defenseman Jack Johnson best described his team’s lackluster play.

“We had a few minutes where we were terrible,” said Johnson. “Cloutier was playing well and the team in front of him sucked.”

“That was our six or seven minutes that we have sometimes,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar. “They scored those goals and that cost us the game.”

Kings head coach Marc Crawford said that his team was totally out of sync in the second period.

“We got out of sync in the second period,” Crawford lamented. “For five minutes, we were totally out of sync. We gave up some uncharacteristic big chances. We left Danny alone.”

“I thought we had a great first period,” Crawford elaborated. “It seemed as though timing kind of got to us in the second period. There was the fight with [Dustin] Brown and [Brent] Seabrook, so we didn’t have Brown for those five minutes and Dustin’s a big part for what we do. He often plays on two lines. Not having him probably threw us out of sync. It threw our lines out of sync a little bit.”

Crawford added that his team was standing around, watching the ’Hawks skate around the Kings’ zone.

“We got caught standing still,” said Crawford. “And when you get caught standing still, especially in defensive coverage against a team that skates very well and has good puck movement, that’s a team that has as good of forwards as there is in the National Hockey League.”

“They tax you,” added Crawford. “They’ve got the young [Tuomo] Ruutu kid playing on arguably their fourth line and he’s a talented player. All those other guys, Toews and [Patrick] Kane and [Robert] Lang and Williams. You go down that list and see their all talented forwards. We unfortunately didn’t collapse back, we left some open space and they took advantage of it.”

Contributing to the ’Hawks big second period was the emotional lift provided by defenseman Brent Seabrook, who immediately went after Brown after he nailed Toews near the Kings’ blue with a hard, open-ice hit.

“He hit Toews pretty good, so I just thought I’d let them know that’s not going to be allowed,” Seabrook explained, “[Toews is] one of our best players, and you can’t have that happen. You have to protect them and stand up for each other. They can’t be running at our players like that. I don’t know if it’s my role to go out and fight every night, but I’m definitely going to take exception when their guys are running our guys. We’re not going to take that.”

“I don’t know if it sparked [his teammates],” Seabrook added. “The guys had a great second period. It seemed like they were just finding the open spots and getting good shots on net.”

Seabrook’s coaches and teammates definitely took inspiration from Seabrook.

“Seabrook has stepped up now twice in the last week for his teammates,” said Chicago head coach Denis Savard. “That’s part of being a team that’s jelling.”

“He’s proven he’s going to be there the last few games with guys going after [Patrick] Kane and myself and other guys,” said Toews. “That’s good leadership and shows the other team we’re not going to back down from that kind of stuff. You appreciate it when you’ve got a guy in the locker room who is going to stick up for you like that.”

“I was a little angry after that hit, so I wanted to go and get something done,” added Toews. “It gives you a little bit of adrenaline, and I was lucky enough to create a few chances.”

Although he cannot be blamed entirely for the goals he allowed, Cloutier, who was yanked after Williams scored at the 8:17 mark and was replaced by rookie goalie Erik Ersberg, pointed to himself as being a part of the problem.

“I’ve got to be better on some of those goals,” he said “I know it’s a young team. We’ve been saying that for two years now and I think it’s time to come up with something else. I’m an older guy. I have to make saves at certain times of the game. We’re down 2-1, there’s still a lot of hockey left.”

Little did Cloutier know how prophetic his last words above would be.

Down 5-1 after two periods, all seemed lost. But the Kings had other ideas.

Although it took them a little while to get things going, Cammalleri knocked in a rebound from the goal mouth at the 9:06 mark for his 16th goal of the season and his first since December 21 at Columbus before he went down with a rib cartilage injury that forced him to miss 17 games.

And then the floodgates opened, as the Kings crashed the front of the Chicago net and started activating defensemen, including Tom Preissing, who moved into the right circle where he took a pass from Cammalleri and fired a one-timer that beat Chicago goaltender Patrick Lalime top shelf, upper right corner of the net…

To read the full story, click: Another Miracle…Almost

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