LOS ANGELES – The moment was there to crush the Chicago Blackhawks along with their quest to solidify themselves as hockey's newest dynasty.
Oh that word can be thrown around too often, but three Stanley Cups in five years would, at the very least, make for a compelling conversation. But to win the third they still have to get by the Los Angeles Kings, their equal in these playoffs, and Friday night the Kings had the defending champs on the ropes in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.
The scoreboard showed the Kings up 3-2 with under nine minutes to play, and really all the momentum was in their favor. They'd scored twice in the third to retake the lead, sending the sellout crowd into a tizzy and Dustin Brown on a mission to drill anyone in his way.
The Kings could taste the Stanley Cup Final, where the New York Rangers await, while the Blackhawks, well, time was simply running out on them.
Lose and it's the Kings moving on, to play for their second Cup in three years. The dynasty talk would be over, at least in Chicago.
And so yes, the weight of the moment was there to crush them, except that Patrick Kane wouldn't let it.
First he threaded a brilliant pass to Duncan Keith, who tied the game at 3-3 with 8:26 left, then he went on a Sunday skate – taking the puck from deep inside the L.A. zone then back to the blue line before snapping a perfect wrister by Jonathan Quick.
And just like that the dynasty discussion was still alive.
Blackhawks 4, Kings 3. Game 7 Sunday night in Chicago.
"It's amazing what he can do in these big games, when our season is on the line and nobody else seems to be able to do it the same way he does," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said of Kane. "It's pretty amazing."
And, if we're being fans of the game, pretty appropriate, too, because this series should be heading to Game 7.
On a night when on one coast the Miami Heat earned a trip to the NBA Finals by destroying the Indiana Pacers by 25 points (in a game that wasn't even that close), the Blackhawks and Kings continued to show why (in resounding fashion) the NHL produces the better product come playoff time.
Three times the lead changed hands in this one, twice in the third period alone. There was Quick stoning a two-on-none Blackhawks' breakaway in the second to keep it a one-goal game; there was Drew Doughty roofing one in the third to tie the game at 2-2, then dishing to Alex Martinez for a wrister that put the Kings up 3-2.
And then there was Kane in total control, making brilliance look easy by slowing down the world around him.
This was grind-your-teeth, ohh-after-ohh-after-ohhh moments from start to finish. And it wasn't even the best game of the series. (See Game 5 for that.)
"This is a wow factor in this series, especially these last two games," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "Two competitive teams that have experience – experienced players, experience in the situation. It's been amazing. As good as it gets."
And there's still more to come.
Dynasty talk aside, Game 7 will go a long way in deciding which team is the dominant one of this era. If the Blackhawks win, they'll get a shot at Stanley Cup No. 3; if the Kings win, they'll be shooting for two Cups in three years.
Maybe none of this matters in the moment to the players – Kane said as much Friday night – but who wins this next game will dictate what NHL conversations center around a few years from now. It means the difference between being classified as a really good team vs. a team for the ages. And the crazy things is, whichever team wins could be that team for the ages.
"There's not much of a difference or a gap between these two clubs," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said in one of his more verbose comments. "It comes down to the great plays at the end."
Kane made them Friday night to extend the Blackhawks' season at least one more game.
Now it's onto Sunday for Game 7, where not much will be decided other than which team won't be playing for another Stanley Cup.