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Blackhawks Thu Jan 29 2015

West Coast Swing a Tough Test for Blackhawks

Chicago BlackhawksAfter a nice break at the halfway point of the season, and whatever you wanted to call the display on ice in Columbus for the All-Star game, the Blackhawks laced up their skates for another long swing to the west coast. The last time the team logged this many miles across the Continental Divide, they collected 10 points in six games (5-1-0) and averaged 3.83 goals per game against some of the conference's best.

Coming into the game against the defending champion Los Angeles Kings Wednesday night, the Hawks were riding a warmed up Marian Hossa (one goal, one assist against Pittsburgh), a young Teuvo Teravainen gaining more confidence at the wing and even a few shifts at the dot, and a completely thermal Patrick Kane making a case for becoming the first Hart Memorial Trophy winner since Stan Mikita in 1968.

Unfortunately, for the Hawks, and those who stuck with them on television until the wee hours, the end result was a little too familiar in games that were in hand but squandered in the third period.

As expected after a long break, and confirmed by Patrick Sharp in an interview after the first period, both teams came out at full speed after being well-rested over the past seven days. The Hawks struck first, as usual, with a Kane rebound off a David Rundblad blast on the near side -- something he's become quite comfortable with as of late -- to make it 1-0.

Fast forward to the third period when Andrew Shaw gave the Hawks a 3-2 lead off a nice feed from Teravainen just 2 minutes, 25 seconds into the final frame. But then with 6 minutes, 11 seconds left in the game, Tyler Toffoli snuck a wrister past Corey Crawford.

The eventual game winner was a wrister from the blue line by Jake Muzzin, which Crawford never had a chance to block after being screened by Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jeff Carter. Tough break for the Hawks who played relatively well for most of the 60 minutes against a team just barely out of the playoff picture if the postseason were to start today.

It was a game the Hawks should have won, but certainly not one that creates the need to hit the panic button. On the equalizing goal by Toffoli, Hossa was a little out of position in the middle of the ice where the number-three star of the game was waiting all alone for the Dwight King no-look pass.

It's games like these that provide a lot of head-scratching moments, most especially since the Hawks were able to out shoot the Kings 29 to 27 and out draw them at the dot 52 percent to 48 percent.

What jumps out is that the Hawks only attempted six shots on goal the final 20 minutes, compared to 13 in the first and 10 in the second. Lower possession numbers in a period equate to less opportunities, which then leads to more shots on Crawford. Again, not anything to hit the reset button on, but certainly something to look over during this stretch away from home while thousands of Annas and Elsas migrate to the United Center.

The Blackhawks go back-to-back, first in Anaheim and then in San Jose, before making their way back home for a long stretch. Keeping the shots up in the third period will help close out games and make for a happier return before the real stretch of the regular season begins.

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