CHICAGO – The captain of the Los Angeles Kings sat in the back corner of the dressing room Wednesday night, arms crossed, head down. Just two years ago, Dustin Brown lifted the Stanley Cup after a 16-4 playoff run. Just three weeks ago, his team became only the fourth in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 deficit and win a seven-game series.
The Kings have shown how good they can be. They have shown how resilient they can be. Yet to them, this crazy, 6-2 comeback victory over the Chicago Blackhawks did more than simply tie the Western Conference final, 1-1.
“I think this is a huge, huge game for our …”
Brown searched for the right word.
“Approach, I guess.”
No, not approach ...
“Our psyche,” he said. “It’s kind of like slaying the mythical dragon, really. We’ve been dominated by this team over the last couple years. To come in here and get a win in their building, with the type of home record they have, I think gives us a boost in confidence.”
The Kings needed this. For all they have accomplished, they have struggled to beat the Blackhawks. They didn’t have to face them on their Cup run. The night they raised the banner and opened the 2012-13 season, they got waxed by them, 5-2. They went 1-2 against them last season, then met them in the Western Conference final – and lost in five games. They went 0-3 against them this season, then lost Game 1 of this series. Add it up, and they were 2-10 in the last dozen meetings.
Entering Wednesday night, the Kings were 2-4 in their last six games. The Blackhawks were 9-2 in their past 11, including 7-0 at the United Center. Through 38 minutes, the Kings faced a 2-0 deficit – and it could have been worse if not for a how-did-that-puck-stay-out sequence in the first period and a sharp save by Jonathan Quick on Brent Seabrook in the second.
“We got a bounce,” said Kings center Jeff Carter.
Mike Richards centered the puck, and it went off Justin Williams in front, and it slipped past Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, who had been stellar in these playoffs, especially in his last three games. With 1:46 left in the second period, the Kings had cut their deficit to 2-1.
“That late goal gave us a little bit of energy we needed,” Brown said. “I think that was a key goal. I think that was probably the biggest goal of the game.”
If you think Kings coach Darryl Sutter made some inspirational speech during the second intermission, you have never squirmed through one of his press conferences or behind-the-bench interviews. Sutter does not make inspirational speeches. He does inspire, though, in his own way. He stares. He makes little comments about the opponent, according to Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, like calling Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews “the best player in the world.”
“I don’t think he said too much,” Doughty said. “When Darryl doesn’t come in and say too much, that means he’s mad at us, and that tells us we’re not playing well and we need to do something about it.”
The players had plenty to say themselves. “It was just kind of an enough-is-enough attitude,” said Kings center Jarret Stoll. “We’ve got to beat this team. We all know what the record has been the last two years, especially in this building. That’s kind of what we talked about. We all know we had better. We all knew we could push and pull more, and I think we did that in the third.”
The Blackhawks gave the Kings back-to-back power plays early in the third – the second because they had too many men on the ice – and the Kings cashed in. Carter tipped a point shot by Doughty. Jake Muzzin roofed a shot from the left circle. The Blackhawks stood around when they thought a puck went out of play, only to see it fall from the sky at the feet of Tanner Pearson, who threw it into the slot for Tyler Toffoli, who made it 4-2. Carter completed a hat trick with a couple of late goals, the last into an empty net.
“I don’t know if we’ve seen a game like that all year where we’re doing everything all right and all of a sudden it was a disaster,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.
Well, the first two games of the playoffs were close. Twice, the Blackhawks had a 3-2 lead over the St. Louis Blues. Twice, they gave up the tying goal late in regulation and lost in overtime. They lost Game 1 in triple overtime. They gave up the tying goal in Game 2 with only 6.4 seconds left in the third. Quenneville called that one “brutal.” The Blackhawks bounced back then, and they’ll be fine now. They can say they gave this one away.
This loss didn’t matter as much to the Blackhawks as this victory did to the Kings. Though the Kings rallied after losing three straight in each of the first two rounds, beating both the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks in seven games, it might have been too much to ask to go back to L.A. in a 2-0 hole. It might have been too much to ask to win four out of the next five against a team to which they would have lost 11 of their last 13.
“We were just trying to stay positive,” Doughty said. “We were happy about that goal late in the second period. That was a big goal for our club. We came in and we believed we were going to win this game. We just continually said, ‘This is our game for the taking now.’ They outplayed us in the first two periods. We hadn’t shown our best hockey yet. We were determined to come out and dominate that third period, and I think we did a good job.”
A five-goal third? Yeah, pretty good.
“We just don’t give up,” Doughty said. “We have a lot of heart. We have a lot of will. As a team, we have such great chemistry on and off the ice that when we get put in those positions, we believe in every single one of each other. We believe we can come back. We believe we can win the game.”
Now, more than before, they believe they can win the series.