When the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, they managed to do so by dominating the opposition. They only lost two contests in the three series that led up to the Stanley Cup Final, where they took care of the New Jersey Devils in six.
The Kings are within striking distance of another appearance in the Final, but they've taken the scenic route in 2014. For the third consecutive series, L.A. will play a Game 7 and it has an opportunity to do something that no other team in the history of the NHL has done.
Recent history would suggest that L.A. is the favorite heading into Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks. That isn't the case, though, despite success in similar situations over the last few weeks.
Did they storm back in historic fashion against the San Jose Sharks in the first round? They sure did. And did the Kings then win another hard fought seven-game series against the Anaheim Ducks? They did that too.
These Blackhawks aren't like the Ducks or Sharks, though. They're champions through and through, and if they only had hope following a Game 5 win, then the Blackhawks have boatloads of confidence after winning Game 6. The reason for that confidence is simple: they trailed in the third period of Games 5 and 6 yet still managed to win.
The Kings were given the chance to play their brand of hockey and to close out the series not just once, but twice over the last two contests. This is a squad that's been constructed to win close games through good goaltending and strong defensive play. We saw that plan in action in the first four games of the WCF, and it worked. Somewhere along the line in Game 5, the Kings stopped clogging up the neutral zone and Jonathan Quick stopped making routine saves, let alone timely ones.
Los Angeles' strengths aren't looking like strengths right now, and they had and missed two chances to squeeze the life out of the champs for good. Protecting one-goal leads in the dying minutes of the third period is where the Kings are supposed to thrive, yet they failed to do so. Now Chicago looks like a team that is trending in the right direction.
Much was made about the second line of the Kings through the first four games of the series. They've gone silent over the last two outings while Patrick Kane has erupted. After notching one point in games one through four, he's caught fire, posting four assists in Game 5 before scoring twice and adding an assist in Game 6.
His game-tying tally with less than four minutes to play saved Chicago's season and crushed any mental or physical advantage that the Kings had left over from their 3-1 series lead.
L.A. had a 4-3 advantage heading into the third period of Game 5 and couldn't close. The Kings had a 3-2 lead in Game 6 and needed to protect it for all of 12 minutes and 22 seconds and couldn't. Chicago's killers were on full display in both of the team's elimination games in this series, and they'll be geared up and ready to go for Game 7.
Consider this: the Blackhawks only had three shots in the third period of Game 6 and two of them went in.
Now the Kings need to find their killer instinct or else they'll be remembered as the kings of clutch that got out-clutched by Kane and Co. Believing in the law of averages is one thing, but it's not like L.A. has just been unlucky for two games.
If the 'Hawks were scoring on bounces or via puck luck, then the optics of Game 7 would look different. They haven't been lucky, though. Los Angeles just haven't been good—at least not good enough to put away a prideful team like the Blackhawks.
The wheels have fallen off the Kings over the last seven-plus periods of hockey and Chicago is rolling. Kane looks possessed, and it's taking grade-A efforts from Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar just to contain Jonathan Toews.
As good as the Kings have been in Game 7s recently, they're going to be hard-pressed to win at the United Center on Sunday. They had their chances and their advantages, and they blew it. The slate is clean now, and the 'Hawks have simply been the better and more opportunistic team since the end of Game 4.
All statistics appear courtesy of NHL.com.
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