LOS ANGELES -- And so the dream of back-to-back Stanley Cups recedes to a tiny pinpoint of light in an otherwise dark room for the Chicago Blackhawks.
There's a reason, maybe a thousand reasons, that essentially no NHL team repeats as champion. No one.
How many reasons were on display Monday night in Los Angeles, where the Blackhawks were crushed like an old soda can on the side of the road by a relentless Kings team that poured three goals past the defending champions in the last half of the first period en route to a 5-2 victory in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals?
Game 5 is set for Wednesday night in Chicago, where the Blackhawks, now trailing 3-1 in the series, will face their first elimination game of the spring.
Unless they can find some sort of wellspring of will, of determination, of discipline that eluded them in what was for all intents and purposes a must-win situation in Game 4, then it will be a formality and the dream of a first repeat champion since 1997-98 in Detroit will evaporate like all of the others in between.
"I think when you give up three goals in a period, especially the first period, to a team like that, it gives them energy, gives them confidence, in their own building. So we know we can't do that," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said afterward. "It's frustrating to think about the little things we could have changed to put ourselves in a better situation in the series, but we're not going to stop working, we're not going to stop trying. It's as simple as that."
This isn't to say the Blackhawks have no chance. Of course they do. A year ago, they erased a 3-1 series deficit against the Red Wings in the second round. But if the moments of separation between the Kings and Blackhawks that had revealed themselves late in Kings victories in Games 2 and 3 suggested a trend, then Game 4 marked something more emphatic, the space between the two teams appearing for most of the night to be vast, chasm-like and, dare we say, unbridgeable.
No back and forth, no ebb and flow as had been the case earlier in the series. This was all back no forth, all ebb no flow from the Blackhawks' perspective until the third period, when they played their most desperate hockey of the night but could get no closer than 4-2 before the Kings added an empty-net goal to close out the scoring.
Since winning Game 1 by a 3-1 count, the Blackhawks have been outscored 15-7 during their current three-game slide.
"Yeah, it's not a good position to be in," offered winger Patrick Kane, who earned an assist -- his first point of the series -- on the team's second goal, a third-period marker by Bryan Bickell. "I think coming into this series you'd be lying if we thought we'd be in this position, but it happens and we've got no one to blame but ourselves. We're the only ones that are going to get ourselves out of it, so might as well start with Game 5 in Chicago."
All the things the Blackhawks had insisted they were going to do better, cracks in their armor they were going to buttress, evaporated like so much smoke in a span of 6:04 in the first period that saw the Blackhawks allow three goals on six shots -- two on the power play -- effectively sucking the life out of the defending champs and turning this series on its ear.