Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks Game 7: Keys for Each Team
Though some hockey fans don't want it to end, the wildly entertaining 2014 Western Conference Final will conclude on Sunday at United Center in Chicago.
After the Los Angeles Kings rode a wave of momentum to a 3-1 series lead, the Chicago Blackhawks battled back with two come-from-behind wins, tying the series and forcing the winner-take-all Game 7.
Supporters on both side have been treated to world-class performances from their stars through the last two weeks of unpredictable, high-level hockey. Now, only one squad can advance to meet the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final.
The winner-take-all Game 7 takes place Sunday at 8 p.m. ET from Chicago. Here are each team's keys to victory.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com.
Key for Los Angeles: Contain Kane
Patrick Kane was up to his old tricks again on Friday—scoring big goals when they matter most.
Kane was off to a good start earlier in these playoffs with three game-winning goals in the first two rounds, including the series-clincher in overtime against the Minnesota Wild. He started off quiet against Los Angeles but has found his groove since being reunited on a second line with Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad two games ago.
After exploding with four assists in do-or-die Game 5, Kane added another three points in Game 6. Always a timely contributor, he set up Duncan Keith's tying goal in the third period, then scored the game-winner himself with 3:45 left in the game.
Kane now has nine goals and eight assists in 14 playoff Game 6 and 7 situations through his career, where the 'Hawks have gone 12-2.
In 2013, Kane's dazzling personal numbers and key goals were enough to earn him the Conn Smythe Trophy. He stayed humble when asked by NHL.com's Corey Masisak about his contribution this year. "You try to take it upon yourself to try and step up in big situations, but we have a lot of guys that do that. When it's your turn, it's always fun to contribute."
The Kings will need to find a way to contain "Showtime" if they hope to outscore the 'Hawks for the win on Sunday.
Key for Chicago: 5-on-5 Play
Much of this series has hinged on special-teams play.
When the Kings started rolling in Games 2 through 4, they were an impressive 5-for-10 with the man advantage. The 'Hawks answered back with the only power-play goal of Game 5 before each team went 1-for-2 in Game 6.
Typically, referees will put their whistles away in Game 7 situations and let the players decide the game for themselves. One notorious example was the Boston Bruins' 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in 2011, where not a single penalty was called.
The 'Hawks need to make sure they stay out of the penalty box. They also need to be prepared to do their scoring at even strength: Power-play chances are likely to be few and far between.
Key for Los Angeles: Counterattack Coach Q
As the Los Angeles Kings were building their 3-1 series lead and dominating the defending Stanley Cup Champions, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was tweaking his lineup as he searched for the spark that would re-ignite his team's goal-scoring engine.
Jonathan Toews looked like he'd be the catalyst with his two first-period goals in Game 4, but his teammates weren't ready to come along for the ride until Game 5, when Coach Q moved Andrew Shaw back up to the second line with Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad. The results were instantaneous and effective.
Quenneville also shuffled Kris Versteeg right out of the lineup after a poor defensive play led to Dustin Brown's game-tying goal in the second period of Game 5; he didn't play another shift on Wednesday and was replaced by seventh defenseman Sheldon Brookbank for Game 6 on Friday.
The Chicago bench boss is not shy about throwing out new wrinkles, especially when the stakes are high. He'll also have the luxury of the last line change in his home rink for Game 7.
The Kings' Darryl Sutter will need to stay on his toes if he hopes to avoid being bested by Quenneville's deft coaching sleight of hand.
Key for Chicago: Get to Quick
Two goals on three shots in the third period of Game 6.
Hats off to Chicago for making the most of their very limited opportunities when the game was on the line.
2012 Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Jonathan Quick can't be feeling great about what he delivered for his team on Friday. After a shaky performance in Game 5, Quick allowed a Ben Smith goal to bank in off his own skate in the second period, then couldn't shut the door on the very limited pressure that he faced in the third.
Quick was dialed in during the Kings' elimination games against the San Jose Sharks, allowing just two goal in three games. He gave up three goals in two games when L.A. faced elimination against the Anaheim Ducks. But he hasn't shown that steely focus in the last two games against the Blackhawks.
If Chicago can continue to keep Quick unsettled, they'll have a good chance of picking up their series-clinching win and heading on to face the Rangers.
Key for Los Angeles: 7th Heaven
For the second time in these playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings have squandered a two-game series lead. Before going up 3-1 against Chicago, the Kings also had a 2-0 lead against the Anaheim Ducks. They lost the next three and needed to come back to win both elimination games in order to advance to Round 3.
With Game 7 now looming against the Blackhawks, the Kings are finally where they feel most comfortable—with their backs squarely against the wall.
It doesn't look good on paper. They're facing the defending Stanley Cup Champions on the road and playing their third Game 7 in a row. According to NHL.com, only two other teams in history have been in a similar situation—the 1993 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 2002 Colorado Avalanche. After winning their first two Game 7s, both ended up falling in their Conference Finals.
The Kings defied the odds in 2012 when they became the first-ever No. 8 seed to win a Stanley Cup. They showed their fearless determination this year when they stormed back from their 0-3 deficit against the San Joe Sharks in Round 1. They've won both their Game 7s on the road so far this year.
If the Kings can dial in the belief that they're destined to go three-for-three, they just might pull this off.
Key for Chicago: Just Another Game
The Madhouse on Madison will be rockin' on Sunday, but the host Chicago Blackhawks will need to prepare as if it's just another game.
The Kings may rule in Game 7s, but Chicago has shown some calm resilience during these playoffs as well—particularly after falling behind St. Louis 0-2 during the first round.
In a hostile atmosphere for Game 6, trailing in the third period, the Blackhawks stayed calm and believed in themselves. As Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago describes, "There’s been little room to move or breathe. There’s been even less room to panic. The Blackhawks haven’t."
Jonathan Toews says the team can combine its steady approach with sheer determination in Game 7:
"We worked very hard to get here and you don’t want to let it just slip away. We thought about that the last few days and worked very hard to get back in this series. We have a chance to stay alive and keep playing hockey for a little while longer."
Both Chicago and Los Angeles now boast rosters filled with players who know what it takes to win—Stanley Cups, Olympic gold medals, Game 7s. Each side will be expecting to triumph on Sunday.
It should make for a very memorable hockey game, worthy of capping off a tremendous series.