Whoever ended up winning Game 7 in the Western Conference, it was going to be well earned as the first 6 games between the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks were a war of attrition. It didn’t look good for the Kings early as the home side jumped out to a lead and the Kings had to battle back to tie the game 3 times to force overtime where Alec Martinez was the hero as his point shot went off Nick Leddy and flipped over Corey Crawford‘s shoulder to send the Kings to the Final for the second time in 3 seasons.
The Blackhawks used the home crowd to get out of the gate quickly, scoring 2 goals two and a half minutes apart in the first half of the first frame. Brandon Saad opened the scoring banking a shot in off Jonathan Quick from the goal line, and then on a Hawks power play Jonathan Toews snuck in and picked up a loose puck in the slot after Brent Seabrook‘s shot hit teammate Patrick Kane in the pants and bounced into the open.
However, the Kings were undaunted, and as they have this entire playoff season, they showed resiliency. Dustin Brown broke in along the side boards and his shot was stopped by Corey Crawford, but the puck bounced in the air and was batted home by Jeff Carter. The play was reviewed, but there was no clear evidence that Carter’s stick was above the crossbar so the goal stood and the lead narrowed to 1.
Justin Williams, who came into the game with a 6-0 record in Game 7′s and 12 career game 7 points (2nd all time) further enhanced his legendary status less than a minute later when he picked up a loose puck between the hash marks and chipped it over Crawford to silence the United Center crowd.
That silence was deafening, but also very short-lived as Patrick Sharp, who had been very quiet in the series so far, scored from a tough angle just 12 seconds after Williams had tied it. The puck took a ridiculous skip-bounce right in front of Quick and tucked inside the post for an unlikely goal that had the Hawks up a goal after a wild 20 minutes.
The Blackhawks carried the play in the second period, outshooting the Los Angeles Kings 16-4 (aided by 4 power plays including a 5-on-3), but it was Tyler Toffoli who struck first. Standing at the side of the crease, he was in the right spot at the right time as Slava Voynov‘s shot was blocked by Michal Handzus but it trickled to Toffoli who had a wide open cage to tuck it home.
Sharp put the Hawks ahead for the third time in the game on another Hawks power play, with his point shot deflecting in off Kings blueliner Jake Muzzin and past Quick, who was without a stick after having it knocked away by Muzzin earlier in the sequence. The Hawks went to the room after 40 minutes in the same situation as they did after 20, ahead by 1.
With just over 7 minutes left, the Kings drew even again when Dustin Brown’s long shot was stopped by Crawford, but Marian Gaborik driving the net was key. The rebound went off Gaborik and he was able to corral the puck and backhand it past the sprawling Hawks goalkeeper.
Both teams had opportunities to take the lead and win it through the last 7 minutes of regulation, and both went for it in overtime, not taking a step back. The winner came on yet another crazy bounce but was set up by the forecheck of, you guessed it, Williams. He got the puck deep, knocked the stick out of Leddy’s hands (which in regulation probably would have earned him a penalty) and tracked down the puck, feeding Martinez at the point. Martinez’ easy wrist shot was waved at by Toffoli, went off Leddy and past Crawford who also had to deal with Jarret Stoll in his face as the puck got past him and the series was over.
The Kings became the first team to ever advance to the Finals after winning 3 game 7′s in the first 3 rounds, and did it by winning all 3 on the road. The Kings will have home ice advantage for the first time in the postseason when they host the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Finals that begin Wednesday night.