The Blackhawks aren’t used to this role in the handshake line, being the team that wishes the other well while it finishes up earlier than expected.
But after taking several leads and being unable to hold any of them against a Los Angeles Kings team that has been resilient throughout the postseason, the Blackhawks were reminded of how hollow that feeling can be.
Patrick Sharp scored twice, but Alec Martinez’s shot bounced off a Blackhawks defender and over Corey Crawford’s shoulder in overtime to give the Kings a 5-4 victory in the Western Conference Final on Sunday night. The Kings won their third consecutive Game 7, all on visiting ice, to advance to their second Stanley Cup Final in the past three seasons.
The Blackhawks gave up more goals in this series (28) than they did the previous two combined (27). They led three times in this game. Every time, the Kings found a way to tie it, taking their only lead when it mattered – the end.
“We were one goal away. That’s all it came down to,” said Jonathan Toews, who scored a power-play goal in the first. “We had a feeling this game was going to find a way to go to overtime, come down to overtime, the way these two teams were fighting playing against each. We were just looking for that one lucky bounce and ran out of time. We didn’t get it.”
The Kings, however, did get that bounce. Alec Martinez fired a shot that hit defenseman Nick Leddy in front before flipping over Crawford’s shoulder just 5:47 into overtime. The Kings, who have come back in various ways throughout these playoffs, had one more in them.
Ben Smith, who recorded a team-high six blocks in this game, said he should have had one more.
“I was on the ice. I have to get a block there. I’ve got to learn from it,” Smith said. “Overtime, Game 7, frustrating. But I have to be better. For me it’s a learning thing.”
The Blackhawks couldn’t have gotten off to a better start in this one. Brandon Saad got them up 1-0 about five minutes into the game, with Toews scoring a power-play goal in front for a 2-0 advantage just 3:30 later. But as the Kings have done all postseason, be it in a series or in a game, they came back. Jeff Carter knocked down a rebound to make it 2-1, and Justin Williams tied it with his seventh career Game 7 goal.
Sharp’s first goal was a bizarre one, a knuckler that fooled Jonathan Quick to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 edge late in the first. That lasted until Tyler Toffoli, wide open for a Matt Greene shot that was partially blocked by Michal Handzus, scored to tie it again. Sharp’s power-play goal made it 4-3 Blackhawks until Marian Gaborik scored with less than eight minutes remaining in regulation.
You know the ending – it’s one that will stick with the Blackhawks for a while.
“It’s tough. It stings right now, that’s for sure. Don’t really know what else to say other than that,” Sharp said. “I thought we had a heck of a game tonight; just one goal short.”
Indeed, for all the lost leads and goals allowed, this was one hell of a series and the Blackhawks were just one more goal, one overtime shot away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final. Full marks to the Kings: they’ve made comebacks their forte this postseason. Not only are they more offensively stocked than last spring, they’re also more healthy than this time last year.
The Blackhawks are understandably unhappy with the final result. They squandered leads. They had their chances. They nevertheless went on another great run.
“I couldn't be prouder of our guys the way we competed in some tough situations, down 3-1, one shot away from going to try to do it again,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We're in a tough division, some tough teams, some tough games. Overcoming all those obstacles after what happened last year and this year. We’ve lost some tough games, but nothing like tonight.”