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:
Martinez talked about the win afterwards, via CSN's Joe Haggerty:
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:
That didn't mean he wasn't proud of his team's effort, though:
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:
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":
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:
When everyone was finally able to catch their breath, the result was a historically potent 20 minutes of play, per ESPN Stats & Info:
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:
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:
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:
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.