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A wretched step backward

Columbus Blue JacketsNHLUnited CenterTyler WrightNathan DempseyChicago BlackhawksPaulina Gretzky

So much for those good holiday vibes.

Playing a team that hadn't won on the road in nine months and that had traveled into town that day, the Blackhawks treated Friday night's match against the Columbus Blue Jackets like an unwanted gift in a 4-1 loss before a crowd of 13,517 that is losing patience and checked its holiday cheer at the door.

"We were just terrible, starting with me," defenseman Nathan Dempsey said.

In the span of a little less than three hours, the Hawks squandered whatever momentum and goodwill it built up with a tie against New Jersey and victory over St. Louis earlier in the week.

Columbus came into town Friday with the worst record in the Western Conference and hadn't won on the road since last March 29. The Blue Jackets were 0-13-1-2 since that victory in Calgary and only 3-27-1-2 in their last 33 games on the road.

No matter.

After spotting the Hawks a 1-0 lead on a Scott Nichol goal 13 minutes 33 seconds into the first period, Columbus proceeded to score the next four. Entering the third period tied 1-1, Columbus scored twice in the first four minutes as a cacophony of boos engulfed the United Center.

"It's a 60-minute game," Hawks coach Brian Sutter said. "You never know when the grenade is going to blow, you have to be strong in all situations."

Erasing nearly every negative streak it had, Columbus also won for the first time this season when tied after 40 minutes. It was also the first time Columbus scored four goals on the road since that night in Calgary last March.

The game turned in the first four minutes of the third when the Hawks were charitable with the puck in their own end. Turn the puck over enough times in your own zone and you'll be fishing it out of your net.

The general consensus in the Hawks' locker room after the game was a lack of urgency to start the final 20 minutes—from a team that has two victories in its last 22 games.

"I don't know why," Nichol said. "Maybe we thought it was going to be easy and we would just show up."

After David Vyborny skated across the slot unmolested and flipped a backhand past Michael Leighton to tie the game at 1-1 8:23 into the second period, the Blue Jackets took the lead 2:23 into the third.

Manny Maholtra tapped a pass from Tyler Wright into an open net—there wasn't a Hawk within 5 feet of him—to make it 2-1.

Rick Nash took over the NHL lead in goals only 1:28 later when he pounced on a rebound of a Trevor Letowski shot to make it 3-1. For Nash, only 19, it was his 22nd goal of the season and 39th of his career.

At this pace, Nash will join some select company sometime this season. Only two players in NHL history—Jimmy Carson and Wayne Gretzky—had 50 goals or more in their career before their 20th birthday. Nash won't turn 20 until June.

Even a team in a situation like Columbus has something positive to focus on, which might be more than can be said for the Hawks.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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