LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings have proved to be a tough team to eliminate. They’ve been victorious in two Game 7s on the road and Sunday night in Chicago, they’ll look to recapture that magic as they face the Blackhawks in yet another Game 7.
A 4-3 win by Chicago Friday night at Staples Center evened the Western Conference Finals at 3-3. It was the second time in as many games the Kings failed to protect a third-period lead and eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Their 3-1 series lead feels like it was ages ago.
"We’ve been in that spot a few times, we know how to deal with it," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. "We’re still a confident group. We know we lost tonight so we’re over it already. We’re ready to move on and we’re ready to win a game in (Chicago)."
Another epic clash took place in the war that has become the third round. The Kings scored first and then quickly gave up two in a disastrous second period. But in the third, they regained their composure, tying and then taking a lead.
But Patrick Kane, a player the Kings had done a remarkable defensive job on through the early games of the series, blasted a shot through traffic and caught Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick low. He hit the net for the game-winner and his second goal of the game, capping off a three-point night.
Kane finished with three points while his linemates, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad, each finished with one. The line was a mid-series adjustment for the Blackhawks and it’s confounded L.A. in the last two games. Kane has two goals and seven points in the last two after being left off the scoresheet entirely in the first three games.
"Up until the last two games I think we’ve done a good job on Kane and today we gave him space and he makes plays," said Kings captain Dustin Brown. "The two goals in the third were a result of giving Kane time and space. That’s what happens.
"We’ve been doing a good job on him. The last two games we’ve let him off the hook a little bit. That’s why he’s the type of player he is."
For a brief moment, it looked as though the Kings were unstoppable. Early in the third period, Doughty scored and Alec Martinez followed two minutes later. The Staples Center roared during a TV timeout and another trip to the Cup finals looked assured.
But a moment even more brief gave way to Duncan Keith’s game-tying goal. A split-second is all it takes in monumental game between two elite teams.
"It’s two really good hockey clubs bordering on the top of the league," said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. "To think it wouldn’t be a 7 or a 6 or anything like that, not disappointed in that at all."
"This is the ‘wow’ factor in this series, especially the last two games," said Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville. "We got two competitive teams that have experience, have experienced players, experience in the situation. You know, it’s been amazing. I mean, as good as it gets."
The Kings would argue that it’s not quite as good as it gets — they’ve reserved those performances for Game 7s.
"This group has been through a lot and playoffs are all about hitting the reset button each and every game," Brown said. "We didn’t want to go back there but now we have to so you hit the reset button. We get on a plane tomorrow and you go."
Sutter’s postgame speech articulated that much as well: "Flight’s at 11," was all he said.
It was yet another dramatic contest that further illustrated why each team has won the last two Stanley Cups. It’s not at all unfathomable to think that this year’s winner will once again be out of the Western Conference after six unbelievable games.
But exactly which team is still to be determined.
"It’s not that tough," Doughty said. "We’re fine. We still believe we could have won this game tonight. We know that we can still beat this Chicago Blackhawk team, but we also know it’s not going to be easy. They’re going to have their best game, in this Game 7, especially in their home rink. We just got to reset, fly over there tomorrow and just be ready to win a hockey game."