LOS ANGELES – In the first period, Patrick Sharp dropped his gloves and clenched his fists. He wanted to fight.
In the second period, Duncan Keith swung his stick toward Jeff Carter’s face. He wanted revenge.
By the end of the third period, as black-and-silver confetti fell from the top of the Staples Center, the Blackhawks headed off the ice and into a quiet locker room. They wanted to leave.
The Hawks lost their composure too many times Tuesday before losing the game, 3-1, to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. And unless the Hawks get their minds right in a hurry, they could be in jeopardy of losing their 2-1 series lead.
“We’re not happy with the result,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We’ll learn from it.”
If it’s a one-game lesson on the road to the Stanley Cup, that’s OK.
If it’s the beginning of a trend against the more physical, less talented Kings, that’s not OK.
It would be foolish to press the panic button, but it’s fair to press the concern button.
Everyone who watches the Hawks knows that they play a beautiful style of hockey. They have beautiful players (or, uh, so I’m told). They live in beautiful condominiums and houses, and when they head west in the playoffs, they stay in a beautiful hotel in Beverly Hills.
So why did they try to be so ugly on such a beautiful night in Southern California?
Sharp has been the Hawks’ best player during the postseason, but he fell for the Kings’ tricks in Game 3. When he lined up across from Kings winger Justin Williams before a faceoff late in the first period, angry chatter led to angry bumps, which led to both players dropping their gloves.
“He asked me to fight,” Sharp said. “If he asks me again, I’ll fight him any day he wants.”
That was the problem with Game 3 in a nutshell. The Kings acted, and the Hawks reacted.
But zero punches thrown by Sharp and Williams meant zero fighting majors, so both players served 2-minute minors for roughing.
From his seat in the penalty box, Sharp offered a derisive wink to Williams.
Now, there are good winks and bad winks.
Marian Hossa confidently winking to his buddies watching from a bar in Slovakia? Good wink.
Sharp smugly winking at an opponent after a brief role as “Tough Guy No. 10”? Bad wink.
Far worse was Keith drawing blood with a high-sticking penalty on Carter about halfway through the second period. Keith admitted afterward that he wanted to “tap” Carter, but not in the face.
“It was just a little scuffle at the end of the play,” said Keith, who drew a four-minute penalty because Carter was cut. “It was an accident.”
Other “accidents” included a slashing penalty by Sharp, an interference penalty by Johnny Oduya and a high-sticking penalty by Marcus Kruger. The Hawks’ penalty kill shined again, going 5-for-5, but the glut of Kings’ power plays kept the Hawks in their defensive zone for nearly 10 minutes.
It’s pretty hard to score when you’re almost 200 feet away from the Kings’ net.
“We took five penalties tonight,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Probably four too many.”
At least a few Hawks understood how they would need to play going forward.
Bryan Bickell, who scored the Hawks’ only goal on a wrap-around late in the second period, said he and his teammates would have to stay disciplined in Game 4 as the Kings looked to extend their home winning streak of 15 games and their playoff home record of 8-0.
“We just need to play between the whistles,” Bickell said, “and stay out of the ruckus kind of stuff.”
After Bickell had answered the final question of his marathon postgame interview, he wadded up a piece of hockey tape and took aim at a gray trash can in the middle of the locker room.
It was that kind of night.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.