CHICAGO — On Wednesday night in Chicago, the Los Angeles Kings were 20 minutes from another trip to the Stanley Cup final. But what ensued was 42 minutes and four seconds of hockey so breathtaking it was almost unfortunate it had to end.
And when it did, the Chicago Blackhawks were still standing.
The Blackhawks won in double overtime when former Kings center Michal Handzus backhanded the game-winner around goaltender Jonathan Quick to hand the Kings a heartbreaking 5-4 loss in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.
The Kings now lead 3-2 as the series returns to L.A. Friday night at Staples Center.
"Good hockey game, but not a hockey game you want to lose," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. "Just losing in overtime stings a lot, just knowing we could have had it so many times. We had the lead going into the third and you can’t ask for much more than that, and to give up a goal like that in the third was a little bit of a dagger."
To even get to the overtime period, the Kings had to overcome a 2-0 first-period deficit and hold off a team fighting for its life as its Stanley Cup title defense is left hanging by a thread.
It was the second time in as many years the two teams waged a double-overtime battle at the United Center in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. The Kings lost 4-3 a year ago.
"No one said it would be easy," said Kings forward Jarret Stoll. "It’s not easy, it’s never going to be easy, especially against the defending champions and a team that’s won and knows how to win these games."
The Kings were up 4-3 when Ben Smith’s backhander tied the game up barely a minute into the third period. Then, an overtime period that displayed tremendous effort, energy and intensity by both teams took place.
The two went nearly eight full minutes without a stoppage in play. No one dared to take their eyes off the ice. The officiating crew swallowed the whistles and let the last two Stanley Cup winners play beautiful hockey.
"At points there we were like, ‘Jeez, maybe get a cover here?’" Stoll said. "But it’s good hockey for the fans, they were into it, both teams were into it and it was fun."
Each team had chances but both goaltenders stood on their heads and each team sacrificed everything they had to block shots. The Kings recorded eight hits, blocked eight shots and Quick made eight saves in the first overtime. The Blackhawks recorded 11 hits, blocked five shots and Corey Crawford made 10 saves.
Everything each team had was left out on the ice.
"I thought it was an unbelievable period, up and back the whole period," said Blackhawks’ forward Patrick Kane. "There wasn’t a lot of whistles, just up and back. It was a really fun period of hockey."
It was the Kings that still looked to have the advantage as the second overtime period began. But all it took was one play and Handzus had the puck in the back of the net.
"It’s win or go home for them," Justin Williams said. "It’s desperation time. We tried to match that as best we could. We just fell a break short in overtime."
Brandon Saad led the Blackhawks with a goal and two assists and Patrick Kane finally had a breakout performance with a four-assist night.
The performances of the Kings’ top players was both admirable and impressive.
Marian Gaborik scored his league-leading 11th goal while Anze Kopitar tallied his league-leading 23rd point of the postseason. Quick made 40 saves and Doughty played nearly 40 minutes and shockingly couldn’t connect on any of his game-high nine shots on goal.
"I felt fresh, I honestly wasn’t tired at all," Doughty said. "I was just finding the puck in space and I was able to go end-to-end about 10 times and get shots off that way. Power play, I was getting some good looks. I should have scored today, I had so many opportunities and I felt really good. When I’m feeling good I’ve got to score."
The adrenaline high Doughty said carried him through will need to be carried over Friday. Win and they’re in, lose and they come back to Chicago once again to play a third Game 7 in front of a raucous United Center crowd.
"It’s a tough building," said Kings’ head coach Darryl Sutter. "Damn near got it."