The 2013 Stanley Cup Finals are now set. They will not include the Los Angeles Kings.
One year after a historic and unprecedented run brought them to the Stanley Cup Finals (and eventually gave them the greatest trophy in sports), the Kings were eliminated in the Western Conference Finals by the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks. Last night's game was the longest in Kings franchise history, so you can't say they didn't give it a hell of a fight before succumbing 4-3 to the new Western Conference Champions. For the final time, let's recap what happened.
(Hopefully you got some sleep last night. You deserve it, devoted Kings fan.)
The word you often hear thrown around before an elimination game is "desperation." If the Kings were desperate tonight, they didn't show it early on. Chicago smelled blood and capitalized on a couple of early chances to establish an early two-goal lead. The first goal came off of a crappy line change, but Jonathan Quick was the responsible party when Duncan Keith scored. Michal Rozsival got the puck near his own bench, and with most of the Kings in the midst of a change, he threw the puck cross-ice to a streaking Duncan Keith. The Kings recovered in time to pressure Keith into taking a long slapshot, and it should have been an easy stop for Quick. However, the puck squeaked through Quick's five-hole, and the Hawks were ahead 3:42 into Game 5. No word if Keith apologized for making Quick look bad.
If the first goal was ugly for the Kings' goalie, the second goal was ugly for basically everyone involved. The Hawks slapped the puck in from center ice, and with Quick expecting an icing call, the referees waved it off and allowed play to continue. Robyn Regehr was beaten to the puck in front, and Quick's poke check hit the puck at about the same time that Bryan Bickell got to the net. Jonathan Toews took a whack at the puck, and it deflected back to Patrick Kane. Kane went around Anze Kopitar, and with Drew Doughty and Quick both sprawled and lunging, Kane simply needed to elevate the puck and did so to put Chicago firmly in control. The Blackhawks had two goals; the Kings had zero shots. On the bright side, LA finally got some pucks on net after going 10:40 without a shot, but Corey Crawford made the lead stand up into intermission.
The Kings were going to need someone to step up In the second period to close the gap. Enter Justin Williams and Dwight King... oh, and Jonathan Quick. Might not be your expected offensive contributors, and with the Kings down a man, it certainly wasn't at the expected times. Dustin Penner was in the box for interference (in the playoffs, even his penalties generate goals!) and Chicago threw the puck in deep. Quick intercepted the puck behind the net and threw it along the boards to Dwight King, who successfully carried the puck out and angled it along the boards ahead of Justin Williams. Williams sped past Nick Leddy and picked up the puck, and though Leddy defended the play reasonably well, Williams held him off long enough to get the puck to the front. Crawford poke-checked the puck, but it only made it as far as the stick of King, who quickly beat Crawford five-hole at point-blank range. The Kings had a power play chance with five minutes left and got sustained pressure in the final minute, but the game would remain 2-1 into the third.
The struggling Kings power play gained a measure of redemption early in the third, as did the struggling Anze Kopitar. After a Mike Richards shot missed the net, the puck rolled back to Jeff Carter, who carried it up top and took a long wrist shot from near the blue line. The shot got all the way through to Corey Crawford, and with Kopitar well-positioned directly in front, he shrugged off Duncan Keith's checks to put the rebound home. Richards earned the second assist in his first game back from his concussion, and though he spent the duration of the game on the fourth line with Jordan Nolan and Kyle Clifford, he got his chances to contribute. That line struggled mightily, but they would need to be counted on with the team gassed. The third line did their part to shoulder the load, putting up the night's best numbers at even strength.
But Patrick Kane and the Hawks weren't letting the comeback get to them. Kane took advantage of a controversial non-call to put Chicago in front with four minutes to go. Justin Williams was tripped up behind the net by Bryan Bickell, who grabbed the puck and fed Kane in the slot for the go-ahead goal. The Kings were furious that no call was made, and it would have been a pretty brutal way for LA's run to end. Fortunately, with the extra attacker on late, LA mustered up one final bit of magic to send the game to OT. On an offensive-zone faceoff with 14 seconds left, Darryl Sutter called on Doughty, Voynov, Carter, Richards, Kopitar and Stoll to save the Kings. Five of them would touch the puck in five seconds. Stoll won the draw to Carter, who poked it back to Voynov, who delivered a pass to Kopitar along the boards. Kopitar turned around and threw the puck towards the net, and the leg of Mike Richards (accidentally? on purpose? who cares?) deflected the puck past Crawford. Overtime.
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/T_jrBRM0sZE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
LA got the brunt of the early pressure, and later in the first overtime, they would force nice glove stops by Crawford on Williams, Jake Muzzin, and Trevor Lewis. Quick was game at the other end, and both goalies pushed the game past the midway point of overtime number 2. Five minutes after the game had become the longest in Kings history (passing LA-Vancouver Game 5 in 1993), Patrick Kane completed his hat trick to send Chicago back to the Finals. Slava Voynov pinched in to try and stop Bryan Bickell from clearing the zone, but the puck got out and Jonathan Toews immediately sprung a 2-on-1 with Kane. Rob Scuderi was defending the pass, so Quick kept himself square to Toews, but Toews found a hole and made the pass across to Kane. Again, Kane had some room in the upper half of the net with Quick coming across, and the finish was clinical.
The Kings did not go quietly, but in the end, they simply couldn't overcome their injuries and their issues to beat the best team in the Western Conference. Chicago will face Boston in the Stanley Cup Finals, and it should be quite a series. In the meantime, watch the handshakes here, and stick around in the upcoming weeks for more analysis of the playoffs and plenty of offseason content.
Thanks so much for reading the recaps this season, everybody. Pay tribute to these Kings in the comments.