After scrapping their way out of an early hole Sunday evening at the United Center, the Kings went toe-to-toe with Chicago until Alec Martinez ended the affair in overtime, sending the Kings to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three seasons.
Sunday’s win was a compact look at the Kings’ postseason, where they’ve battled back from numerous odds, banking on clutch late game scoring, and never breaking down when behind. It’s an ode to not just the skill level of this group, but their outstanding mental stability.
This is a special group; and it takes one to eliminate the Chicago Blackhawks.
Jeff Carter and Justin Williams scored 51 seconds apart in the first period to cancel out the Blackhawks’ two goals they scored in the opening minutes of play. Carter and Williams’ tallies were followed up by a goal from Chicago’s Patrick Sharp, who got a little help from a wacky bounce to beat Jonathan Quick.
The Kings, after one, were down 3-2.
Midway through the second, Tyler Toffoli slammed home the Kings’ third goal of the evening, hopping on a puck that sat unaccounted for after Matt Greene’s slap shot from the point deflected off traffic in front of Corey Crawford’s net. Toffoli, with great hands, buried the puck – which was on edge, in a swift one-time motion.
Toffoli’s goal knotted the score at 3-3, but the Kings would then take a string of penalties, allowing Chicago’s power play to take action. On their fifth power play of the night, the Blackhawks regained the lead on Patrick Sharp’s goal with 1:35 to play in the middle frame.
It wasn’t the best of periods for the Kings, who were outshot 16-4 and trapped in their own zone for the majority of the period as their penalty kill was put to constant work.
Entering the third period down 4-3, there was no sudden sense of urgency in the Kings’ play. They were rather conservative, maintaining disciplined defensive play, knowing that holding their own at their own end would eventually evolve into an opportunity in Chicago’s zone.
That opportunity came with just over seven minutes to go in regulation time. Dustin Brown entered Chicago’s zone, moved laterally after crossing the blue line, and fired a wrist shot from the top of the zone toward Chicago’s net.
Brown was reading the movement of Marian Gaborik, who was steadfast on crashing Corey Crawford’s net. Crawford couldn’t handle Brown’s shot cleanly and Gaborik got a stick on the rebound, and chipped the puck off of and past Chicago’s goaltender to score the Kings’ fourth goal of the evening. Gaborik’s goal tied the game at 4-4 with 7:17 to play in regulation time.
Then, overtime came.
And Alec Martinez was the hero.
After the Kings entered Chicago’s zone on a quick dump-in just over five minutes into the extra period, Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams put solid pressure on the Blackhawks’ defense on their forecheck. Williams got hold of a loose puck behind Chicago’s net, swung around the corner, and hit Alec Martinez with a pass high atop the left point.
Martinez, who was just looking to get the puck to the front of the net, did just that with a quick wrist shot. Martinez’s shot caromed off of Chicago’s Nick Leddy, and up and over Corey Crawford to solidify the Kings as Western Conference Champions, punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Kings will face the New York Rangers Wednesday night in the first game of the Stanley Cup Final at STAPLES Center.