DETROIT — Jonathan Toews barked at officials from the penalty box, venting his frustration during an almost-surreal string of three penalties called against the Blackhawks captain in a span of 5 minutes, 34 seconds.
Toews’ discouraging night was indicative of the Hawks’ — and their Western Conference semifinals performance as a whole — as they fell 2-0 to the Red Wings in Game 4 Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena. The loss put the Hawks in dire straits as they trail the best-of-seven series 3-1 with Game 5 Saturday night at the United Center.
“I’m not going to say anything about the officiating,” Toews said. “Obviously, I disagree with the calls. It’s in the heat of the moment they see what they see. I have to be careful with my stick. That doesn’t help our team.
“Emotions run high in some of these games. My stick got a little loose there. I was playing hard. Sometimes that happens.”
The Presidents’ Trophy winners entered the game facing their first real adversity of the season after having fallen behind in the series and left it facing a major uphill battle to avoid a disappointing end to what has been an historic campaign.
Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard made Jakub Kindl’s second-period power-play goal with Toews in the box — and Daniel Cleary’s empty-netter — hold up with a brilliant performance, outdueling Hawks netminder Corey Crawford.
Howard made 28 saves as the Hawks were shut out for the first time this season. It is also the first time in 2013 the Hawks have dropped three games in a row.
“We played our tails off,” Toews said. “We did a lot of good things, we just didn’t find the back of the net.”
Coach Joel Quenneville shook up the Hawks’ lines to start the game to try to jump start the offense — especially his top scorers — that managed just one goal in each of the losses in Games 2 and 3. Toews and Patrick Kane were reunited on the top line with Bryan Bickell jumping from the third line to complete the trio. The second line consisted of wingers Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa flanking center Michal Handzus.
The changes did generate some offensive activity in the opening period but Howard was at his best. The Hawks had the bulk of the quality scoring chances but the Wings netminder was up to the task on shots from Bickell, Toews and Kane as well as on a Sharp breakaway attempt.
At the other end, Crawford wasn’t tested as sharply, but did steer aside a Niklas Kronwall blast and a big Cleary opportunity moments after Sharp’s break.
Howard kept up his personal highlight reel with several acrobatic saves to keep the Hawks at bay in the second. Toews’ remarkable run of penalties got the Wings going. They cashed in on the second one when Kindl closed in on Crawford and blew a shot past the goalie to the stick side with a second remaining on the penalty midway through the period. It was the first power-play goal the Hawks had allowed in the postseason, snapping a streak of 30 kills.
“Everyone’s a little pissed off,” Crawford said. “I thought we played well again. It just seems like we can’t get bounces.
“Three off the post and they get one (Kindl’s goal) off the post and in. That pretty much sums it up for the last couple of nights for us.”
In the third, both goalies kept up their exceptional play, with Howard halting Dave Bolland on a terrific chance off a two-on-one midway through.
“There are times times when you’re just not getting bounces and doing a lot of things right,” Crawford said. “I just can’t explain it. It’s another thing if you’re not playing hard and you’re not battling. That’s not the case with our team right now.”