Hockey / Sports

Los Angeles Kings teammates congratulate forward Dwight King after he scored a first-period goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the NHL Western Conference finals on Sunday, June 1, 2014, in Chicago. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Blackhawks' early burst not enough as relentless Kings reach Stanley Cup Final

CHICAGO -- Put that dynasty talk on hold.

The Chicago Blackhawks' season ended Sunday night at the United Center when they fell to the Kings 5-4 in overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

In the end, it wasn't a Stanley Cup hangover or a curse brought on by Justin Bieber standing on the Indianhead logo in the dressing room that prevented the Blackhawks from becoming the first team to repeat as champions since the 1998 Red Wings.

No, it was a Kings team that was relentless in its drive to the Stanley Cup Final, where they will meet the Rangers beginning Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

Alec Martinez scored the game-winner in overtime as the Kings completed the hat trick by winning their third Game 7 of the playoffs -- all on the road -- after previously rallying to dispatch the Sharks and Ducks to reach the conference finals.

Martinez's winner came on a shot that deflected off Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy and bounded past goaltender Corey Crawford to stun the crowd of 22,315. Tyler Toffoli had a goal and an assist and Justin Williams, Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik also scored in regulation to give goaltender Jonathan Quick just enough offense to topple the defending champions. Dwight King and Dustin Brown each added two assists.

Patrick Sharp had two goals, Brandon Saad a goal and an assist and Jonathan Toews also scored, but it meant nothing as they were on the losing end of the ceremonial handshake at center ice.

Instead of capturing their third Cup in five seasons and cementing themselves as team for the ages, the Blackhawks now face an offseason full of what-ifs? They will range from, what if general manager Stan Bowman had acquired a second-line center to what if Joel Quenneville had found the right formula for his lineup earlier in the series to what if goaltender Corey Crawford had played as well as he did during the run to the '13 title?

The first period alone Sunday was jaw-dropping as the teams combined for five goals on 18 shots, including three by the Blackhawks on seven as they took a 3-2 lead.

After a rousing national anthem that tested the lung capacity of everyone in the building, the Blackhawks struck quickly as Saad kicked off the offensive onslaught. The winger worked his way to the side of the Kings' net, tapped his stick on the ice to call for the puck and Kane put it right on his tape. Saad then fired a sharp-angle shot over Quick's left shoulder to put the Blackhawks in front.

Toews made it 2-0 a short time later with a power-play goal. With Williams in the box for tripping, Kane carried the puck into the offensive zone and passed it to Brent Seabrook. The defenseman's return pass caromed off Kane's stick right to the crease, where Toews punched it in.

While the crowd sensed a blowout, the Kings would have none of that and scored the next two to tie it. First, Carter batted a rebound of a Brown shot into the net and less than a minute later Williams pounced on a puck in the slot after a block by Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival and buried it past Crawford.

The crowd was deflated after seeing the lead evaporate -- but not for long. Just 12 seconds later, Sharp cruised into the Kings' zone and sent a shot from the left dot that appeared to hit the stick of LA defenseman Drew Doughty and one-hopped past Quick and into the goal.

Midway through the second, the Kings tied it when Blackhawks center Michal Handzus partially blocked a shot by Matt Greene. The puck bee-lined to Toffoli, standing alone in front of the net, and the center banged it home.

Sharp, who entered the game with just three goals in 18 games during the playoffs after leading the Blackhawks with 34 in the regular season, scored his second of the game. With Trevor Lewis in the box, the Blackhawks scored again with a man advantage when Sharp's shot from the point zipped past Doughty and then Quick.

With the Blackhawks sensing victory, Gaborik knotted the game at 4-4 with 7:17 remaining when the veteran flipped in a rebound of a Brown shot.

That set up Toffoli's winner.

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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