The Blackhawks have always prided themselves as a strong defensive team. They have the numbers to back that up through their successful stints the past few seasons.
In the Western Conference Final, however, that usually stingy defense wasn’t so stingy. The Los Angeles Kings, bolstered offensively this season, were more than happy to take advantage of that.
Alec Martinez scored the Kings’ fifth goal in overtime on Sunday night, propelling his team to a 5-4 victory and Los Angeles’ second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in the past three seasons. It was a bittersweet ending for the Blackhawks, who came back from a 3-1 series deficit to force Game 7.
They also gave up plenty of leads, however. The Blackhawks were up 2-0, then 3-2, then 4-3 in this one before the Kings came back each time. The Hawks had a 2-0 lead in Game 2 from which the Kings recovered and later dominated.
In all, the Blackhawks gave up 28 goals to the Kings these past seven games. They surrendered 27 in the previous two series against St. Louis and Minnesota combined. Game 2 was a big swing for the Kings, when they scored five in the third period en route to a 6-2 trouncing of the Blackhawks who, as stated above, started that game with a 2-0 edge.
“I thought we played two good teams in the first two series. There wasn't a lot of room, wasn't a lot of space and we didn't give up much. (It was) a little bit more open in this series,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We're productive, but we had to be better keeping it out of our net.”
The Kings deserve a good dose of credit. The team that struggled to score in the regular season took off in the playoffs. Marian Gaborik ended up being a tremendous trade-deadline pickup; he has 12 postseason goals so far. The Jeff Carter line hurt the Blackhawks throughout. Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson combined for 11 goals, with Carter having five of them.
But the Blackhawks had their lapses and struggled at times to clear pucks out of the danger areas. They switched up defensive pairs earlier in the series; they were somewhat better, but the goals kept coming.
“They got some quick sticks. They go to the net hard, loose stuff hanging around. They got a fortunate bounce on the winner,” Quenneville said. “Every goal's different. Their power play really got their offense going. It started in Game 2. The puck started going in on us.”
It didn’t stop going in on them, either. The Blackhawks had plenty of offense in this series; 23 goals over seven games should be enough. It wasn’t. The Blackhawks were still very close to upending the Kings, despite all the goals allowed. But late Sunday night, that was little consolation.
“Obviously we gave up a lot of leads this series, especially,” Duncan Keith said. “You go back to Game 2, we had the lead going into the third. I don’t know. We played hard, but it just seemed like obviously you’ve got to give L.A. a lot of credit. They were resilient and never gave up. In Game 7, overtime, anything can happen.”