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Kings feel right at home with 3-1 win; Blackhawks’ lead now 2-1

Updated: June 5, 2013 11:23AM

LOS ANGELES — It looked like all the confidence, all the cool, all the dominance that carried the Blackhawks through two surprisingly easy victories to open the Western Conference final had failed to make the trip to sunny Southern California.

Turned out it just arrived late to the rink, much like the Los Angeles crowd that got stuck in traffic en route to Staples Center for a 6 p.m. start. And on the Kings’ home ice — where they’ve yet to lose this postseason — it simply came too late.

The Kings came out strong and held on for a 3-1 victory in Game 3 on Tuesday night, cutting the Hawks’ series lead to 2-1 heading into Thursday’s Game 4. That game will be back at the Staples Center, where the Kings are now 8-0 this postseason. The defending Stanley Cup champions are 1-7 on the road.

Besides winning the game, the Kings also appeared to win the mental battle, frustrating the Hawks with their aggressive play. Patrick Sharp dropped the gloves to fight Justin Williams before the refs broke it up in the first period, and an apologetic Duncan Keith earned himself a league review — and a possible hearing — for his careless retaliatory stick-swing that hit Jeff Carter in the face.

“They play a lot better at home,” said Hawks goalie Corey Crawford, who made 25 saves as the Kings out-shot the Hawks 28-20. “They were buzzing, they were running around a little more than when we were in Chicago. But we were ready for that. We knew they’d come harder.”

Right from the first drop of the puck, the Kings looked like a different team than the one that sleepwalked through Games 1 and 2. They were faster and more active, with Justin Williams and Jeff Carter all over the ice. And they didn’t waste any time in making their statement that the series was far from over.

Justin Williams scored just 3:21 into the first, forcing a Nick Leddy turnover and then finishing the play off on a Slava Voynov feed. Voynov made it 2-0 early in the second when his broken-stick changeup seemed to surprise Crawford.

The rest of the second period was brutal for the Hawks, who lost their composure and lost their offensive rhythm. It started when Keith — in response to a slash by Carter on his unprotected hand as he bent down to pick up his glove — swung his stick and hit Carter in the face, drawing a double-minor. Keith immediately tried to apologize to Carter before being ushered away by a ref — and did apologize later in the period when Carter returned with a nasty gash on his face.

“Obviously, I wanted to give him a tap, but not where it got him,” Keith said. “I felt bad. Glad to see that he came back. … It was just a little scuffle. It was an accident.”

The league was reviewing the incident late Tuesday night.

Hawks captain Jonathan Toews defended Keith.

“I don’t think there was any intention to hit him in the face,” Toews said. “I think he wanted to give him a whack back, obviously. … Carter was instigating. It’s an unfortunate incident. You never want to hit a guy in the face.”

The Hawks killed off the penalty, allowing just one shot, but the Kings continued to control play — dominating puck possession and hitting (36-26 for the game). With less than seven minutes left in the second period, the Hawks had just one shot in the period, and just eight total.

“We kind of got flat-footed and we were watching each other a little bit too much,” Toews said. “When you’re standing still you’re an easy target for them to come hit you.”

But a brilliant wrap-around goal by — who else? — Bryan Bickell with 33.6 seconds left in the second period gave the Hawks new life. It was Bickell’s seventh goal of the playoffs — one off the league lead — and dramatically changed the complexion of the game.

The Hawks came out far more aggressively in the third period. First, they killed another penalty, as Niklas Hjalmarsson took a Voynov slap shot off the inside of his left knee, struggled to his feet, finished his shift and came back to the bench, missing only about five minutes of game time. Then, on just their second power play of the game, they buzzed around Jonathan Quick (19 saves) but couldn’t convert on several chances.

The Hawks continued to press — Brandon Saad had a puck put in his skates by Viktor Stalberg on a rush, and Keith was barely offsides on a breakaway on a bad Kings line change — but couldn’t tie it up. Los Angeles sealed it with a Dwight King empty-net goal with 27.3 seconds left.

The Kings got a desperately needed win and some momentum heading into Game 4. The Hawks got yet another Game 3 wakeup call — their third Game 3 loss in three rounds.

“We stayed positive and we had quite a few chances late in the game,” Toews said. “We were finally starting to get to that level we need to be. We just didn’t do it for 60 minutes.”

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