Everyone said this series deserved Game Seven. This Game Seven deserved an overtime. And overtime deserved a proper hero. Enter... Alec Martinez?!
5:47 into overtime, his shot deflected off of Nick Leddy and over the shoulder of Corey Crawford to lift the Los Angeles Kings to a 5-4 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Just like that, the Kings are in the Stanley Cup Final, ready to face off against the New York Rangers.
Not surprising for a team which has put themselves through 21 tough hockey games, but they didn't make this easy. The Kings trailed Chicago by two in all four games at the United Center in this series. Perhaps the Blackhawks did it too quickly in this one, as after just 8:36, they had put two goals past Jonathan Quick. One forward line nearly singlehandedly knocked the Kings out of these playoffs, and they struck again early as Brandon Saad scored from a really bad angle. Andrew Shaw and Patrick Kane controlled the puck behind the net, and Saad one-timed Kane's pass off of Jonathan Quick and in. Quick was far from his best in this series, and he didn't look great on that first goal, but that second goal was a bad break. On the power play, Brent Seabrook's shot hit Patrick Kane and deflected right in front for the easiest goal Jonathan Toews will ever score.
In Games Two and Five, the Kings were able to keep things from getting out of hand by cutting the deficit to one by intermission. Today, they made up both goals in the final five minutes, and did so after Tyler Toffoli rang one off the post. First, Jeff Carter knocked in a rebound of a Dustin Brown shot from about crossbar height (but not above!) to make it 2-1. Then, after a good forecheck by the Kings' third line, Justin Williams once again stamped his name on the box score in a Game 7. He scored on a rebound of Slava Voynov's shot, but before the Kings could celebrate, Patrick Sharp scored on an innocent bouncing shot from above the circle.
Terrible bounce, but you absolutely cannot let that puck in during Game 7. Quick was going to have to make up for it... and he would, eventually.
It was 3-2 going into the second period, and it was a rough 20 minutes. The Kings could have easily left the period down by a couple more goals, as Chicago outshot LA 16-4 and got three more power play opportunities in the period. Instead, the Kings nearly escaped with the score tied. Toffoli scored a goal which was eerily similar to the Toews goal; Dwight King set up Matt Greene for a long shot, and Toffoli was alone in front to slam home the deflection. A minute and a half later, Willie Mitchell went off for boarding, and Drew Doughty's cross-check on Andrew Shaw made it a 5-on-3. However, LA came up with their best penalty kill of the game, and when Brandon Saad slashed the stick of Jeff Carter, the power play was over.
However, a Trevor Lewis hold on Andrew Shaw (which we may or may not have agreed with) gave the Hawks one more man advantage, and Sharp scored a more traditional goal on a blast from the point. Quick had lost his stick a few seconds earlier and would have had a tough time stopping it anyway; a slight deflection off Jake Muzzin didn't help. But as Doughty said after the game, "We knew we were going to come back." They waited a little longer to do it this time; with 7:17 to go, though, Marian Gaborik arrived on the scene. Again, it was Dustin Brown who got his shot in the vicinity of the net; Gaborik had a difficult backhand rebound but converted to tie the game at 4. Chicago blocked 23 shots tonight, so getting those shots through was a struggle for the Kings all night.
(Note: a minor earthquake hit Southern California soon after Gaborik's goal. This must have had some sort of cosmic significance.)
The Blackhawks had fewer issues getting pucks at Quick, and they almost pulled a rabbit out of the hat in the final ten seconds of regulation. (Boy, that would've sucked.) Of course, it was Saad, Shaw, and Kane; Saad picked the puck up at the blue line, Shaw took a cross-ice pass and was stoned by the far pad of Quick, and Kane was close to getting the rebound. LA fans forgave Quick for his earlier struggles, and we got ready for the first Conference Finals Game 7 OT in 20 years. That one, of course, culminated in one of the most memorable playoff moments ever... "MATTEAU! MATTEAU! MATTEAU!"
We didn't get a "MARTINEZ! MARTINEZ! MARTINEZ!", but it'll have to do. Chicago had the best chance of OT three minutes in as Brandon Saad got a step on the Kings' defense, but Slava Voynov hounded Saad from behind and the shot was turned away. The Kings got caught in their own zone again against that line two minutes later, with Jeff Carter icing the puck to get LA a brief respite. (The linesman took a moment to check a hole in the ice; Jonathan Quick, hilariously, rolled a water bottle into the faceoff circle to help the linesman and delay the game a bit.) The Kings found a bit of energy on the ensuing shift, Justin Williams got the puck into the zone and got it back after a Stoll forecheck, setting up... this.
Martinez had a career year this season. He scored a potential game-winner in Game 6, only to have some late-game Chicago heroics take it away. Assuming Tyler Toffoli didn't get his stick on the puck, no one is taking this one away from Martinez. The Kings are the first team ever to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals after three seven-game series; who says they can't do this one more time?
Game One is on Wednesday night at Staples Center. Go Kings Go.