LOS ANGELES – About 10 minutes had passed since the start of Wednesday’s Blackhawks practice, and goaltender Corey Crawford was everything for everything.
Then came Patrick Kane flying down the right side of the ice.
Kane snapped a low wrist shot toward Crawford’s glove side. The Hawks’ goaltender kicked out his left leg to try to stop the puck, but the shot was too perfectly placed.
You’ve heard of empty-net goals? Well, this was an empty-building goal.
Now, Kane’s next task is to repeat that type of production in front of 18,000-plus fans and a national TV audience in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. A win would give the Hawks a 3-1 series edge against the Los Angeles Kings, while a loss would even the best-of-seven series at 2-2 with both teams headed back to Chicago.
If any player can spark the Hawks’ offense and lift the team to victory, it’s Kane.
Then again, if any player can represent the Hawks’ struggles against a physical team, it’s Kane.
No wonder all eyes will be on No. 88 when he takes the ice for his first shift.
“We’re looking for a little more,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said in matter-of-fact fashion about his talented winger after practice.
Message sent. Message received.
Kane scored 23 goals in 47 regular-season games, but he has been limited to two goals in 15 playoff games. He has not scored since Game 3 of the Hawks’ second-round series against Detroit, and his scoring drought has spanned seven games and 24 shots on goal.
Every player struggles now and then. But not usually Kane, and not usually like this.
“Maybe not the past few years,” said Kane, who scored 10 playoff goals during the Hawks’ title run in 2010. “I think this playoffs, for whatever reason, I don’t know why, it’s been happening. …
“For me, personally, I think it’s all about willpower and getting the puck and going to do it and having that mindset that you’re going to do it.”
Having that mindset is great.
What’s less certain is whether Kane has the body frame to do it.
A play in Game 3 illustrated how Kane (5-11, 181 pounds) has failed to measure up to the Kings.
Kane, blessed with the speed of a sports car and the hands of a surgeon, had the puck on his stick and wanted to tie the score late in the third period. The blue line marked 64 feet between Kane and the net, and plenty of room (seemingly) existed for Kane to zig, zag and zoom.
Then Kings forward Anze Kopitar (6-3, 225 pounds) rudely butted in Kane’s way and ripped loose the puck. Kane finished the game with a minus-1 rating and two shots on goal in 24 shifts.
Still, Kane insists that he can snap his slump and come up big.
“It’s not all of a sudden that I’m a bad player,” Kane said. “It just doesn’t happen like that. I had a good regular season, and I’m still a good player in this league and can make plays.
“It’s something I’ve just got to go out and do. I can’t take no for an answer.”
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.