One of the greatest Western Conference finals in NHL history ended the only way it could have for the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings on Sunday night – with an instant classic.
Alec Martinez scored the overtime game-winning goal at 5:47 with a wrist shot from the point -- which then deflected off of Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy and behind Corey Crawford -- giving the Kings a 5-4 victory and their second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in three seasons.
“It was a great play by [Justin] Williams to get the puck to me, and I just tried to change the angle,” said Martinez after the game on NBC.
Williams set an NHL record with this 14th career Game 7 point on the play.
“We never say die,” said Martinez. “Someone described us as a bunch of cockroaches. We don’t go away.”
It was only the sixth time in NHL history that a team advanced to play for the Stanley Cup in a Game 7 overtime. The last time it happened: 20 years ago, when Stephane Matteau (“MATTEAU! MATTEAU!”) and the New York Rangers eliminated the New Jersey Devils.
Something had to give in the game. The Kings players entered with a 70-7 career combined Game 7 record. The Blackhawks had been undefeated in Games 5, 6 and 7 over the last two postseasons.
It was a game with the series’ patented frenetic pace, filled with close calls and star performances. It was a game in which both teams seemed to get the bounces at various times, right form the chaotic opening 20 minutes.
The first period featured five goals between the teams, beginning with Brandon Saad’s snipe on an assist from linemate Patrick Kane at 5:06:
The quick shot to Jonathan Quick’s left gave the Blachawks the lead and gave the line of Saad, Kane and Shaw 17 points since they were united in Game 5.
With Justin Williams in the penalty box for tripping, Jonathan Toews found himself alone in front of a gaping net for the 2-0 lead at 8:36.
The Kings rallied on a quirky goal at 16:31 of the first, as a Dustin Brown shot bounced high in the air off of Crawford and Jeff Carter followed with a deflection that barely missed being above the crossbar.
Then it was time for Mr. Game 7:
Justin Williams scored 51 seconds later, converting a bounce off the skates of Michal Rozsival. The goal tied Williams with Glenn Anderson for the most Game 7 goals in NHL history with seven, and tied him for most Game 7 points with Doug Gilmour with 13.
Patrick Sharp answered that goal just 12 seconds later, shooting a bouncing puck off the stick of Drew Doughty. It continued to bounce en route to Quick, who couldn’t handle the disc as it bounced by him. The Blackhawks ended the first period with a 3-2 lead.
Tyler Toffoli tied the game at 10:31 of the second period on a fluky deflection off a Michal Handzus block, moments after the Kings got their first shot of the second frame. They would be outshot in the second 16-4, thanks in part to four penalties on the Kings. The Blackhawks would fail to convert on a 5-on-3 power play in the period.
But then it was Sharp again:
The Kings were scrambling madly on the penalty kill, as Jake Muzzin accidentally knocked Quick’s stick away and Toffoli was chasing the puck like a cat chases a laser pointer. Sharp’s shot deflected off of Muzzin in front of Quick for the 4-3 lead at 18:25.
But the Kings tied the game for the third time on a defensive lapse from the Blackhawks:
Marian Gaborik snuck through behind the Chicago defense and collected a Crawford rebound, flipping it back past the Blackhawks goalie at 12:43 of the third period. It was his NHL-leading 12th playoff goal this postseason.
It was that goal, and a brilliant pad save from Quick with seconds left in the third period, that sent the game to overtime, where the Kings were crowned the best in the West.