WARR’s hockey writer Sidney Brown offers his takes on the Blackhawks throughout their postseason run as well as predictions on the rest of the NHL
The run for back to back Stanley Cups came to an end for the 2014 Chicago Blackhawks after losing in overtime to the Los Angeles Kings 5-4 in overtime of Game 7 at the United Center Sunday night.
This classic series came complete with all kinds of twists and turns from the two best teams in hockey collided in Chicago which turned out to be a game for the ages, the final one wound up being a near-magic deflection of the puck at 5 minutes, 47 seconds into the extra session. Alec Martinez netted home the game-winner off a tip-in which caught the shoulder of Hawks defenseman Nick Leddy and made it past goalie Corey Crawford, an crushing last moment but one that came to a team that made history.
With the win, the Kings became the first team in NHL history to win three Game 7’s on the road in one postseason (San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago).
As for Sunday night, the Hawks came out flying and when Brandon Saad scored his sixth goal of the playoffs off a slapshot (5:06) to give Chicago an early 1-0 lead, the first signs of relief and excitement ran across the UC faithful. Tonight had to be the night.
When captain Jonathan Toews added on to the lead on the power play (8:36) things looked even better, but the early Hawks onslaught only wound up giving the Kings a platform to show their championship heart. Jeff Carter scored at 16:31 to make it a 2-1 game. Then “Mr. Game 7”, Justin Williams, added to his NHL record total of goals in Games 7 at 17:22 and tied the game at 2-2.
Still more first period scoring came when Patrick Sharp stepped up with a wrist shot that hit the net at 17:34, giving the Hawks a 3-2 lead after one period. L.A. pulled even again with Tyler Toffoli (10:31) making it a 3-3 game.
At this point came a stretch where the Hawks had a chance to open the game up when the Kings were called for three penalties and for a moment even had a 5-on-3 power play midway through the period after Willie Mitchell and Drew Doughty each hit the penalty box within 1:13 of each other.
Nothing came about from that sequence but Sharp showed up again at 18:25 on the power play and after two periods the Hawks held a 4-3 lead.
Despite the power play mishaps, the Hawks held a 16-4 advantage on shots on goal at this point and were 20 minutes away from returning to the Stanley Cup Finals. The third period was setup as a test of skill and wills: the Hawks did everything correctly as far as clearing pucks and not giving up second chances but the Achilles heel that has plagued this team all season long has been defensive coverage.
L.A. took advantage of this deficiency in the Hawks’ game when Marian Gaborik delivered his 12th goal of the playoffs off a backhand shot (12:43) to tie the game a third time. The Hawks would make one more push but nothing came about and this Western Conference Final Game 7 went into overtime, not an easy way to go as far as the heart is concerned but it was oh, so fitting considering the way this series played out.
With Martinez’s heroics sending them on their way, the Kings also became the first team to win a conference final in OT since 1994, that last team — the New York Rangers — eventually took the Cup and hadn’t made it back to the final series since until this year, where they now await L.A.
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick stood tall in another do-or-die game, improving his record in Games 7 to 3-0 while stopping 37 of 41 shots and posting a .902 save percentage. On the other end, Corey Crawford did what he could but it wasn’t enough as he just stopped 27 shots and a manufactured a save percentage of .844.
The Hawks had the advantages in the key categories of shots on goal (41-32), faceoff wins (40-36) and blocked shots (23-12) but it was their lack of consistent team defense down the stretch that cost them this game and another championship.
LA — Anze Kopitar scored one assist.
LA — That 70’s Line (Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson) combined for 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists).
LA — Matt Greene lead the team in hits (6).
CHI — Went 2-5 on the power play.
CHI — Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw each scored one assist, Patrick Kane led the team with two.
LA — Drew Doughty and Mike Richards combined for 0 points.
CHI — Marian Hossa finished an underwhelming series with his third straight game without a point.
CHI — Not scoring with a 5-on-3 man advantage in the second period.
CHI — Bryan Bickell’s zero point effort was the opposite from a year ago against the Kings, when he was arguably the difference in the WCF.
This series should go down as one of the best conference final series ever played — the stakes were always high and both teams played up to the challenges put in front of them. The Kings showed the world that they improved from a year ago and their balance of scoring paired with their strong defense works and was the right equation to knock out the defending Cup champs.
After falling behind in the series, the Hawks showed their true colors in fighting back to force a seventh game but couldn’t keep control when it mattered most. Whoever won the series would have been a deserving Western Conference champion, it was only a matter of who got the last bounce to go their way and that happened to be the Kings.
Both goalies, Quick and Crawford, looked mortal at times but both proved that they’re in the top tier of goaltenders in the NHL. Both of these franchises should be around in the coming years batting for Stanley Cups and forming a strong rivalry in the Western Conference.
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