Other than Patrick Sharp almost getting into a fight, Game 3 of the Western Conference finals played out in predictable fashion Tuesday night at Staples Center. The Los Angeles Kings' 3-1 victory over the Blackhawks was not a series-turner. It was a typical ''that's why they call it hockey'' game.
The Kings, down 2-0 in the series, pushed back and played well. The Blackhawks, up 2-0 in the series, took their time in realizing what was hitting them, showed frustration, finally responded too late in the game -- not surprsingly when desperation set it -- and after a late third-period flurry against Jonathan Quick were left to lament that if only hockey were a four-period game they would have won.
That's why they call it hockey.
''It's another game,'' said Kings forward Tyler Toffoli, who had another productive night in place of injured center Mike Richards. ''Playoff hockey, and it's no real surprise.''
The Hawks, of course, took the loss in stride, knowing that tomorrow -- Game 4 at Staples Center -- is another day. Even Sharp casually brushed off his tiff with Justin Williams, when the two scrapped prior to a faceoff and were separated by officials before any blows could be struck. They only let the fighters fight, it seems.
''He asked me to fight,'' Sharp said, ''If he asks me again, I'll fight him any day.''
Depending on whom you're rooting for, that shows either the Hawks' frustration -- that the tougher-than-he-looks but non-combative Sharp could be coaxed into a fight -- or their refusal to back down against a team they seem to know they are better than.
''No. No,'' Toews said when asked if the Hawks were getting frustrated by the Kings. ''We stayed with it. We stayed positive. And we had quite a few chances late in the game. We were finally starting to get to that level we needed to be. We just didn't do it for 60 minutes.''
Unless Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith is suspended after whacking Jeff Carter in the face and drawing blood in retaliation in Game 3, nothing that happened Tuesday night changed the course of this series -- wherever it is headed. The Hawks have a good chance to win Thursday night for a commanding 3-1 lead and a chance to clinch the series at the United Center on Saturday night. Unless the Kings raise their game to yet another level in Game 3, the Hawks still would be on course to win the series even if they come home 2-2.
To put it in typical hockey simplicity, the Hawks are still the Hawks. The Kings are still the Kings. And Jonathan Quick is still Jonathan Quick. As Mike Babcock would say, ''Series on.''
''We didn't want to give them any feeling that they're alive and they're getting the momentum back in the series,'' Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. ''But they played a good game and we just didn't have enough to get the result we wanted to.''
The Kings have every right to feel they've turned the momentum in their favor, even though they haven't. The Kings are 8-0 at home in the playoffs. But the Hawks clearly are undeterred even after the Game 3 loss. They have won at least one road game in their last eight playoff series dating to the 2010 Stanley Cup championship run.
''We still like where we are in the series,'' Toews said, ''but we know we definitely have to bounce back and have a much better effort in Game 4.''
More often than not it takes a little bit of desperation and experience to spark them on the road. The Blackhawks have lost the first road game of a playoff series six consecutive times over the past four seasons. The two times they won the first road game they were in a situation of need -- beating Vancouver 5-2 in Game 3 when they were 1-1 against the Canucks; and beating San Jose 2-1 in Game 1 when they did not have home-ice advantage.
In all other situations, it's almost as if took them a game to get comfortable and then played the way they expected to play. It happened against the Red Wings in the previous series when they played well in Game 3 but lost 3-1, then played even better in Game 4 and lost 2-0 with an empty-netter. Facing elimination in Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena, they scored three third-period goals to turn a 2-1 deficit into a playoff-changing 4-3 victory.
Hockey players don't see the big picture -- they're good at what they do because they only live in the moment. So it's not surprising that a player of Toews' caliber had no clue about that road trend -- the idea that it sometimes takes a game for the Hawks to get comfortable enough to play their game on the road.
''I don't know [about that],'' Toews said. ''We don't really think about what game it is in the series. We go into every single game expecting and planning on winning. We just didn't play well enough to win. We'll play well enough the next game and chase the result that we want.''
Based on that history, the Hawks remain on course. They were clearly outplayed in Game 3, but all their issues were a result of the Kings' energy-and-effort reversal. After so many playoff series, the response is predictable: the Hawks will come up with a big effort in Game 4. They'll play better, get more opportunities and the difference between winning and losing will be the same as it was in Game 1 and 2 in Chicago: Can they get enough pucks past Jonathan Quick?