Chicago is invincible in elimination games. Los Angeles is invincible in Game 7s. Something's got to give, and the hockey world is all the richer for the chance to find out what it will be.
Patrick Kane, the best stick-handler in the game, made sure we'd have that chance with two goals and an assist in the Blackhawks' 4-3 win over the Kings in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Friday at Staples Center.
Kane, who went pointless in the first three games of this series, has two goals and eight points in the last three games. With Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad as linemates, the Hawks have suddenly found a way to match L.A.'s forward depth, even if coach Joel Quenneville continues to shorten his bench to 10 forwards (wings Sheldon Brookbank and Brandon Bollig logged 5:09 and 6:46 of ice time, respectively).
"Playing with two hard workers that work really hard to get the puck back has made my life a lot better as far as getting the puck in good areas where I can make plays," Kane said. "I give the credit to Saader and Shawsy."
This was a crushing loss for the Kings, who made it plain before the game that they had to have this one. It's one thing to win Game 7s on the road against San Jose and Anaheim, two teams with recent histories of playoff failure. It's quite another to win a Game 7 on the road against a defending Stanley Cup champ that has momentum after erasing a 3-1 series lead.
"It's two really good hockey clubs bordering on the top of the league," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "To think it wouldn't be a 7 or a 6 or anything like that -- not disappointed in that at all."
PLAY OF THE DAY
Martinez's wraparound: L.A. defenseman Alec Martinez will be waking up in cold sweats after this nightmarish near-miss. With his wraparound attempt nearly complete and a good two feet of yawning net available, Martinez didn't complete his loop, allowing Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya to get a stick on Martinez's stick and thwart what looked like a gimme.
Keith's equalizer: L.A. had rallied to take a 3-2 lead in the third period with two goals in just over two minutes. Then Patrick Kane went to work, slipping a backhand pass across the slot to defenseman Duncan Keith, who had gotten behind L.A.'s Trevor Lewis. Keith's wrist shot beat goalie Jonathan Quick and the Hawks had momentum for good.
1. RW Patrick Kane, Chicago: Two goals -- including the game-winner -- and a sweet, backhand assist to set up Duncan Keith's game-tying goal.
2. D Duncan Keith, Chicago: A huge goal to tie the game in the third period and quell L.A.'s momentum. Keith also logged a team-high 24:56 of ice time.
3. D Drew Doughty, Los Angeles: Scored the goal to tie the game at 2-2 early in the third period, then set up Alec Martinez for the go-ahead goal about two minutes later. He also had three hits and a game-high 26:10 of ice time, but he was a minus-1.
Chicago 4, Los Angeles 3
Series: Tied 3-3
Key stat: With their victory in Game 6, the Blackhawks improved to 13-0 in games 5-7 dating to the start of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, including 5-0 when facing elimination.
Key player: D Brent Seabrook, Chicago. Seabrook bounced back from a game-opening L.A. goal on which he was beaten to a loose puck. He had two assists, three hits and two blocked shots.
What we learned: You can question their focus. You can question their preparedness. But there is no more doubting the heart of the Blackhawks. When their backs are truly to the wall -- and their definition is more dire than most -- the Hawks bring their A-game. There have been too many examples to discount it anymore.
In 2011, after losing more than 40 percent of the roster from the 2010 Cup-winning club, badly outmanned Chicago fell behind Vancouver 3-0 before winning the next three games and forcing a Game 7 in Vancouver that it lost in overtime. In 2013, the Hawks rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat Detroit. In the first round this season, they rallied from a 2-0 series deficit to eliminate St. Louis in six games. And now this.
Chicago still isn't getting much from regular-season leading scorer Patrick Sharp (two points in this series), who somehow failed to convert a 2-on-0 on Friday. And Marian Hossa has just one assist in the last five games. But when some of Chicago's skilled players falter, others pick them up, as Patrick Kane did on Thursday. L.A. is still scoring enough, but the one line that had dominated early in this series has suddenly gone quiet. Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson didn't register a point on Friday at home while going a combined minus-6. With the momentum swings this series has witnessed, there's no telling how the final act will play out.
Next game: Sunday at Chicago, 5 p.m.
Final thought: Two straight meetings in the Western Conference Final have sown the seeds for a legitimate cross-country rivalry between these two recent Stanley Cup winners. Don't believe us? Well, how often do you see the goalies butting heads, as Chicago's Corey Crawford and L.A.'s Jonathan Quick did here at the end of the second period? With the way these rosters are constructed, it would not be a surprise to see a couple more of these confrontations deep in future playoffs.
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