In what was a fitting ending to a thrilling series, the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 5-4, in a breathtaking Game 7 overtime battle Sunday night, booking a spot in the Stanley Cup Final with the New York Rangers.
All they needed was a Game 7.
L.A. failed to eliminate Chicago in the last two contests, but Alec Martinez scored the game-winner in the extra period, giving the Kings their first lead of the game and entrenching them as the first team in NHL history to win three Game 7s on the road to reach the final, per Elliotte Freidman of CBC Sports:
LA first team ever to win three Game 7s en route to the Final— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) June 2, 2014
Martinez talked about the win afterwards, via CSN's Joe Haggerty:
Alec Martinez to @NBCSN after scoring Game 7 OT game-winner for Kings: "We're kind of like a bunch of cockroaches. You can't get rid of us"— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) June 2, 2014
Of course, with ecstasy for one team comes devastation for another, especially after this kind of series. Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville, via the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Lazerus, summed that up pretty well:
Joel Quenneville: "I've lost some tough games, but nothing like tonight." #Blackhawks— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) June 2, 2014
That didn't mean he wasn't proud of his team's effort, though:
Coach Q: "We were pretty close to getting to the big dance. I couldn't be prouder of our guys and the way we competed."— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) June 2, 2014
While the Rangers will play for the Cup for the first time in two decades, the Kings will look to hoist it for the second time in three years.
Rangers forward Rick Nash, via ESPN's Katie Strang, discussed that experience factor before the matchup was ultimately set Sunday:
We believe in ourselves in here. No matter who we play, they’re a great team. They’ve [each] won the Cup [once] in the past two years. Either way, we’re going to have our hands full and we definitely don’t have the experience besides three guys in this dressing room that they have in theirs.
Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews gave the Blackhawks a quick 2-0 advantage in the first nine minutes, but with the way this series had unfolded, it was clear that no lead was ever going to feel safe—especially with two and a half periods remaining.
The Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke put it simply:
Last time Kings trailed Blackhawks 2-0 in Chicago in playoff, Kings won 6-2..so there's that..— Bill Plaschke (@BillPlaschke) June 2, 2014
While a Kings comeback was expected, however, no one figured it would happen so quickly. Jeff Carter found the back of the net with 3:29 to go in the period, and Justin Williams tied it up less than a minute later.
As ESPN Stats & Info noted, that was nothing new from "Mr. Game 7":
Justin Williams now has 7 goals and 6 assists in 7 career Game 7s. Ties Glenn Anderson for most Game 7 goals in NHL history.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 2, 2014
The tie game lasted for all of 12 seconds, though, as Patrick Sharp scored off the ensuing faceoff, sending a bouncing shot past Jonathan Quick. The Kings' official Twitter feed summarized the wild, unable-to-tweet-fast-enough roller coaster of events:
All tied u… nevermind. #LAKings now trail 3-2.— LA Kings (@LAKings) June 2, 2014
When everyone was finally able to catch their breath, the result was a historically potent 20 minutes of play, per ESPN Stats & Info:
The 5 first-period goals is the most in a Game 7 in NHL history (via @eliassports)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 2, 2014
Tyler Toffoli tied things back up about midway through the second period, but once again, the tie wouldn't last—although this time around, it took Chicago a little longer than 12 seconds to retake the lead.
After Trevor Lewis went to the box for a holding penalty, Sharp took advantage, sending a slap shot past Quick, who had lost his stick. It was a deserving end to the period for Chicago, which spent far more time in its attacking zone and outshot L.A., 16-4.
Bleacher Report's Ken Chin provided a look at the go-ahead goal:
The seconds slowly began ticking away on the Kings season, but right when it started to feel like they wouldn't be able to solve Corey Crawford, Marian Gaborik came to the rescue. With 7:17 remaining, the ever-dangerous veteran grabbed a rebound and slotted it home, tying the game for the third time.
As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, that pushed his postseason-goal tally past his regular-season output:
Marian Gaborik: 12th goal of playoffs, had 11 goals in 41 regular-season games— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 2, 2014
Quick, who had struggled for much of the game, ensured the teams stayed tied through the end of regulation. He finished the third period with 13 saves, including a tremendous denial of Andrew Shaw with 5.3 seconds left to guarantee one of the most hair-raising moments in all of sports. Game 7 hockey overtime—which hadn't happened in the conference finals in 20 years, per the NHL's PR Twitter feed:
Of course, as NHL.com's EJ Hradek argued, that was the most appropriate way to conclude this instant-classic series:
The last two Cup champs go to extra rounds to decide the Western Conference title. Fitting I guess. Truly a heavyweight battle— EJ Hradek (@EJHradek_NHL) June 2, 2014
Less than six minutes in, Martinez sent Chicago home with an assist from—who else?—Williams.
In terms of pure entertainment value, the Cup final is now tasked with what is essentially the equivalent of attempting to follow The Beatles. Even before the scintillating Game 7 took this series from great to unforgettable, the Toronto Star's Bruce Arthur said it best:
Good luck to both the Kings and the Blackhawks tonight, but better luck to the Cup final trying to be as good.— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) June 2, 2014
That doesn't mean there isn't intrigue: Los Angeles' white-hot offensive attack—28 goals in this series—against the Rangers and King Henrik Lundqvist in his first final appearance will be plenty compelling.
Los Angeles, which split its two meetings with New York during the regular season, will be the favorite, but with the Cup on the line, anything can happen.