LOS ANGELES--Did anyone truly think that the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks would manage to settle the issue in four, five or six games?
Of course not.
And so, one of the more wildly entertaining playoff battles in recent years will continue on for a couple more days, drifting into early June with another installment, masquerading as chapter of a miniseries.
It became required when Chicago scored twice in the final 8:26 to erase a one-goal lead and then wrested away Game 6 from the Kings, 4-3, on Friday night at Staples Center. Chicago star Patrick Kane set up the tying goal by defenseman Duncan Keith, scored the game-winner, both in the third, and added another in the second period.
Step up, Game 7.
Not only have the Kings been down this road this postseason, the path is well-worn. This will be their third road Game 7, following previous adventures at San Jose in the first round and at Anaheim in the second. They are the lone team to beat the Blackhawks at United Center this postseason, winning Game 2.
"Both teams are competing like hell in those areas," Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said. "There's not much of a difference or gap in these two clubs....Just a third round and a better opponent."
The Kings once led three games to one in the series and it is now tied at three games each with Game 7 on Sunday in Chicago. The Kings aren't the only Houdini-like team in the postseason. Last year, Chicago rallied from a 3-1 series deficit against the Red Wings and 2-0 to the St. Louis Blues in this postseason in the first round.
It almost as though the Kings seem to have found their spiritual match in the Blackhawks. Kings defenseman Drew Doughty and Kane took turns owning the third period. Before Kane unleashed, again, Doughty inched the Kings closer to another spot in the Stanley Cup final with some dizzying excellence, scoring and setting up a goal by Alec Martinez in the span of 2:06, to make it 3-2, at 7:38.
Then Kane took over.
He had one assist in the first four games and has collected seven points in the last two. Kane said in his TV interview that he had to make amends for having been on the ice for two Kings' goals earlier. On the game-winner, he took a drop pass from linemate Brandon Saad, moved cross-ice and curled into the middle and shot it through a ton of traffic with 3:45 remaining, making it 4-3.
"There were some great plays in the third period by a lot of great players. Kane made a couple," Sutter said. "(Duncan) Keith made one. Drew made a couple."
Still, Doughty wasn't jumping on the Kane Express.
"You know what, yeah, last game he got four assists, but I didn't think it was like he dominated the game," he said. "The stat sheet tells a different story than the actual game."
Kings captain Dustin Brown took a more conventional look at Kane's abilities.
"I think it was what we allowed 88 to do in the third period," Brown said. "You give him time and space and he's going to make plays and that's what he did. So that's on us. We've got to limit his time and space. The last two games, we've backed off of him and allowed him time with the puck."
The other issue, again, is the similar characters of the teams. Chicago dethroned the Kings last spring and hasn't been willing to go quietly into the night this time.
"I don't think anything motivates you like having your back against the wall," said Blackhawks captain, center Jonathan Toews. "Potentially walking into a game where your season might end. I think every single guy in this room thinks about that, lets it sink in a little bit, and we realize how great this opportunity is.
"We worked very hard to get here and you don't want to let it just slip away. We thought about that the last few days and worked very hard to get back in this series. We have a chance to stay alive and keep playing hockey for a little while longer."
Kings center Jarret Stoll was matter-of-fact about the situation, pointing out that Game 7 was up for grabs, despite the recent past.
"It's obviously what's happened this playoff season," he said. "Those are different rounds, different teams, different buildings. We understand that. We understand we've got to have our best game to win this series."
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