Western Conference Finals: Game 5 Recap
Some might describe last night’s game between the Kings and Blackhawks as a “shootout,” and they are not talking about the skills competition. The 5-4 Chicago victory required of 82 minutes and four seconds of all-out, desperation hockey before wily veteran Michal Handzus sent the home fans to the parking lots singing “Chelsea Dagger.” While the win is big in the short term, the Blackhawks are far from out of the woods. They will need to do it all over again in Los Angeles on Friday night as they face elimination on the road, and if they can surmount that task, a Sunday Game 7 with the Campbell Bowl on the line awaits.
Early on in this one, the Kings did not match the energy of the home team right out of the gate, taking an early penalty they could not kill off. By the 3:40 mark of the first, it was 2-0 Hawks and the Madhouse on Madison was certainly living up to its name. Jarret Stoll finally put Los Angeles on the board, and Marian Gaborik tallied his league-leading 11th of the postseason, but they went into the locker room still down a goal due to a Brandon Saad marker that came in between the two Kings goals. The second period was much kinder to them defensively, and in a span of exactly two minutes they grabbed their first lead of the night through a hard-working Dustin Brown goal in front and a wicked Tanner Pearson wrister that burned Corey Crawford on the blocker side. By the time two periods were complete, only 20 minutes with a 4-3 lead separated LA from their second trip to the Finals in three years.
Of course, nothing is given away for free at this time of year, and Chicago came out with a noticeable desperation to start the final stanza of regulation. This paid off for them immediately, as the Kings’ third period lead lasted only for 77 seconds before Ben Smith tied things up. There were no more goals scored in the third period, but the action was still very much there. Chicago had a pair of chances on the power play, including one with just over three minutes to go, but Jonathan Quick stood tall in net. Game 5 would require overtime.
The first extra frame saw nonstop action at its finest. Both teams raced up and down the ice piling up chance after chance, but nothing would go through. Despite being scoreless, the Kings got the better of the play in the first overtime, outshooting their foes 10-8 and picking up two golden opportunities to clinch the Western Conference then and there. However, Anze Kopitar’s far side wrister caught the goalpost instead of the twine, and Crawford made his best save of the extra session on a point-blank Jeff Carter after a near-fatal turnover in front. The Blackhawks certainly didn’t lack for chances, but you could get the sense that they dodged a bullet in keeping the puck out of their net during the free session.
This was the first multiple overtime game of the 2014 playoffs for the Kings, whereas the Hawks had already played in one this postseason, falling in triple OT to the Blues in Game 1 of their first round series. This one would be resolved in much less time than that. The line of Patrick Kane, Saad and Andrew Shaw was brilliant all night long (more on that later), and two thirds of that line chipped in on the eventual winner. Saad found Kane cutting across the slot in the Kings’ zone, and #88 made a brilliant tip pass to Handzus, who was trailing on the play. The 37 year old and my pick for the #bucciovertimechallenge (still waiting on that retweet, Mr. B…) made no mistake on the backhand and put an end to this one at just 2:04 of double overtime. Blackhawks 5, Kings 4.
Very simply, the Kings must be looking at this game as a major missed opportunity. They put themselves in a very deep hole early on by going down 3-1, looking discombobulated in all three zones in the process. It took an extremely admirable effort to get back in this game and even grab the lead going into the third, but when it was all said and done, their defense failed them on this night. The Kings have had no shortage of goal scoring over the course of this series, finding the net six, four, five and four times in Games 2 through 5 respectively. Before last night, they had not allowed any more than three Chicago goals thanks to a responsible defense corps led by NHL 15 cover semifinalist Drew Doughty and the always-competing Jonathan Quick, but they struggled all night long over the course of an untimely an off game. We have certainly seen much better performances out of this Kings team.
The biggest takeaway for the Hawks from this game was the emergence of their new hot line. Patrick Kane can make plays with the best of them, but his play escalated even more with the presence of Saad’s size and speed along with Shaw’s grit in front of the net. It was the second straight night with a four point performance, as Kane’s four helpers equaled the one goal, three assist effort from the Rangers’ Chris Kreider the night before. The Blackhawks had lacked a go-to line up to this point in the series and that contributed to their 3-1 deficit entering Game 5, but they will certainly be relying on this new grouping in any big moment going forward.
This series returns to Staples Center in Los Angeles tomorrow night, with puck drop set for 9:00 Eastern time on the NBC Sports Network. The only thing we know for sure is that this will be the last home game of the series for the Kings, and whether the Blackhawks will do enough to force a seventh game remains to be seen. You won’t want to miss this one.