Game 5 of the 2014 Western Conference Final was a matchup for the ages.
The Kings and Blackhawks played one of the best hockey games—if not the best—of the year, with back-and-forth action and no shortage of brilliant individual performances. The first overtime was particularly magnificent, featuring long stretches of uninterrupted play as the two teams charged up and down the ice.
But there’s no need to take my word for it. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, whom Yahoo Sports' Nicholas J. Cotsonika points out has been involved in more than 2,300 NHL games as a player and head coach, summed the contest up nicely in his postgame comments.
“I’ve seen a lot of games; I’ve been involved in a lot of games,” he said. “That might have been the greatest overtime I’ve seen.”
Game 6 has a lot to live up to, but with these two teams it just might.
Kings’ Top Storylines
Jonathan Quick Is Slumping Again
Bleacher Report’s Dave Lozo wrote a long piece along these lines, so we won’t belabor the point, but the contrast between Quick in the 2014 postseason and the Quick of playoffs past is a stark one.
“Michal Handzus’ double-overtime goal won it for the Blackhawks and left Quick with a sub-.900 save percentage for the third time in this series and eighth time in 19 postseason games,” Lozo observed. “In his two previous postseasons, a span of 38 games, Quick posted a sub-.900 save percentage five times.”
Is the Kings’ Depth Advantage Vanishing?
One of L.A.’s strongest points in taking a 3-1 series lead on Chicago was the play of its depth lines. While Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews dueled in a brutally tough head-to-head matchup, the rest of the Kings forwards had been taking advantage of Chicago’s relatively lesser forwards.
That changed in Game 5, when the combination of Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad drove the offence for the ‘Hawks.
Los Angeles head coach Darryl Sutter will be better able to control the matchups at home in Game 6, which should help, but he needs to find a way to counter the gains Chicago has made beyond the power-on-power battle.
This is a common theme for teams in this situation. The Kings do not want to find themselves in the position of playing Game 7 in Chicago after having squandered a 3-1 series lead.
To avoid it, they’ll have to defeat a Blackhawks team desperate to stay alive. It’s worth noting that while the Kings are 6-0 in elimination games, but just 5-8 in the games leading up to that.
Blackhawks’ Top Storylines
Corey Crawford Isn’t Getting Talked About as a Conn Smythe Candidate These Days
After a strong performance through the first two rounds and in Game 1 against L.A., Crawford has now allowed four or more goals in four consecutive contests. During that span, his save percentage is an unspeakably bad 0.865.
The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus argues that the Blackhawks haven’t been totally blameless in that:
Where the Hawks have failed Crawford the most is in clearing defenders and rebounds from the crease. In Game 4 alone, Jeff Carter stood untouched in front of him on Jake Muzzin’s first-period goal, and Dwight King and Justin Williams went unchallenged in the crease on Drew Doughty’s second-period goal. Crawford never had a chance on either.
However, that’s the smaller part of the problem. The bigger part has been Crawford’s tendency to give up goals like this:
That goal, incidentally, put the Blackhawks behind 4-3 in Game 5. If not for Ben Smith’s third-period marker, it would have eliminated the team from the playoffs.
Patrick Kane Comes Alive
Chicago likely isn’t going to advance to the Stanley Cup Final without a strong performance from its most dynamic offensive player. That performance had been lacking through the first four games of the third round, during which Kane had a lone assist and a minus-three rating.
After his Game 5 outburst, the streaky American winger now has five points in five games and an even rating.
Total Fan Commitment
Lewis Lazare of the Chicago Business Journal notes that Game 5 had pretty decent television ratings in the Chicago market:
Game 5, which stretched to more than 3 1/2 hours, scored a whopping average 16.26 rating over the course of the long and fiercely-fought game. The live game telecast peaked at an even more impressive 21.94 at 10:15 p.m., as the game was well into its sudden death overtime phase. One rating point equals 35,000 households in the Chicago market.
Some quick math here: At 35,000 households per ratings point, Game 5 peaked with a viewership of just fewer than 770,000 households. That’s really not bad given that the most recent census puts the total number of households in Chicago at just north of 1,000,000.
It wasn’t of quite as much interest in Los Angeles.
“And if you think the Los Angeles TV audience cared anywhere near as much about how last night's game played out as Chicago's audience did, you better think again,” writes Lazare. “The game telecast averaged a paltry 3.0 rating in L.A.”
Blackhawks 3, Kings 2 (OT)
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.
Statistics courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.