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Blackhawks on brink of elimination after 2-0 loss to Red Wings

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Updated: May 23, 2013 11:21PM



DETROIT — After everything that had happened — the losses, the hits, the posts, the jawing, the endless harassment of his captain, the three straight penalties called on Jonathan Toews, the Detroit goal — Bryan Bickell finally snapped. With a ferocious look in his eye, Bickell wrestled with Justin Abdelkader in front of the net midway through the second period. The scrum lasted a while, and with Abdelkader pinned on the ice by both Bickell and an official, a scowling Bickell delivered one last punch.

The frustration? The desperation? Maybe even the panic? All the stuff the Blackhawks said they weren’t feeling heading into Thursday night’s Game 4?

It’s here now.

The Hawks lost 2-0 to Detroit — giving them their first three-game losing streak of the season — and were pushed to the brink of elimination, trailing 3-1 in the Western Conference semifinals.

The dream season, the record start, the President’s Trophy — all of it will mean nothing, lost in the ether of history, if the Hawks can’t win three straight against the Red Wings, starting Saturday night at the United Center.

“Yeah, it’s frustrating,” Patrick Sharp said. “When you take a second to think of how it played out, we don’t feel good about it. We’ve got to find a way to dig in.”

And they need to find a way to score a goal.

It was the first time all season that the Hawks — the highest-scoring team in the Western Conference — were shut out. The combination of tenacious Detroit defense, a brutal power play, some bad puck luck — Nick Leddy and Michal Handzus made it five posts in the two games at Joe Louis Arena — and the red-hot goaltending of Jimmy Howard (28 saves) has held the mighty Hawks to just two goals in their last three games.

“Everyone’s a little pissed off,” said goaltender Corey Crawford, who was excellent in a 25-save performance, beaten only by Jakub Kindl’s power play goal from the point in the second period. “I thought we played well again. It just seems like we can’t get bounces. We go [two] off the post and out, and they go one off the post and in. Just pretty much sums it up for the last couple games for us.”

The Hawks wanted to come out with the same intensity and pace that they played the third period of Game 3, and they did just that. Joel Quenneville drastically shook up the lines — Handzus centered Sharp and Marian Hossa, while Toews skated with Bickell and Patrick Kane — and they all appeared to click early on. For the first time since Game 1, the Hawks were creating space for their forwards and getting good shots off from the middle, not just from the outside. The Hawks also were generating turnovers in the Detroit zone. But Henrik Zetterberg continued to hound Toews with every stride he took, and Howard took care of the rest.

The Hawks had 14 shots in the first period, but Howard stopped them all. The second period, however, was a disaster. After squandering a power play early on (the Hawks’ second of three dismal power plays, including one with 4:45 left in the game), Toews took three straight penalties — a hook and two high-sticks. After taking just 11 minors in 47 games in the regular season, the Hawks captain was whistled three times in 5:34.

Detroit loved every minute of it.

“We’d like to keep him in the box,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “He’s not as good for them in the box.”

Said Toews: “Emotions run high in some of these games. My stick got a little loose there. I was playing hard, so sometimes that happens, and it’s frustrating to have to go to the box three times in a row.”

Toews’ unwanted hat trick was too much even for the Hawks’ vaunted penalty kill. With one second left in the second Toews penalty, Kindl’s shot from the point skittered past Crawford. It was the first power play goal the Hawks gave up all postseason in 31 tries.

From there, Howard took over, robbing Sharp, Marcus Kruger and Dave Bolland (the latter on a two-on-one with Michael Frolik), among others. Crawford was equally spectacular, keeping the game within reach with big stops on Daniel Cleary, Franzen and Brendan Smith until Cleary’s empty-netter with 38.2 seconds left.

After the game, in a quiet dressing room, the Hawks sounded more beleaguered than desperate, more bothered than panicky.

“It’s frustrating,” Duncan Keith said. “We competed, but obviously it’s still not good enough. So we’re going to have to find a way to give more.”

The task that faces them is daunting. And the team they’re playing only seems to be getting better with each game.

“Eventually, something’s got to give,’’ Toews said. “We’re too good a team. We’ve got too much talent. For as hard as we’re working, something’s got to go our way.’’



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