The Los Angeles Kings are going the distance once again. They've had a totally reasonable shot at winning the last two games; unfortunately, their opponent is the Chicago Blackhawks, who are as tough to kill as the Kings have been. Someone will have to lose on Sunday, right?
The Kings started out looking sloppy tonight, with Jonathan Quick stopping a wide-open Marian Hossa in the opening minute. Once they moved past that, though, they were able to battle Chicago evenly, and they opened the scoring with three minutes remaining in the first. Joel Quenneville, attempting to get Patrick Kane a few additional shifts, paired him with Michal Handzus and Patrick Sharp for an offensive zone faceoff. However, after Jarret Stoll won the faceoff and Justin Williams dumped it in, the Blackhawks fell asleep. Stoll got to the puck first and quickly passed to the slot, where an open Dwight King was waiting. King beat Crawford to put LA up 1-0, a fine place to be after an even 20 minutes.
So what do you want to do when you start the second period with a lead? I can tell you what you don't want to do: take a penalty. Anze Kopitar did just that after holding Jonathan Toews. I was in the other room, and from the audio, it sounded inevitable that the Blackhawks were going to tie it up. After all, when the first minute of the power play looks like this...
... your penalty killers are going to get tired. And though the defense knew Kane was the one to worry about, Stoll, Trevor Lewis, Drew Doughty, and Jake Muzzin couldn't prevent Kane from tying things up.
If that first goal was inevitable, the second one was preventable. Unfortunately, Jonathan Quick's tendency to come well out of the crease bit him once again. Ben Smith got the puck on the right side and carried it below the goal line instead of taking an open shot; however, he saw an opportunity at this moment:
Smith banked it in off the pad of Quick, and very quickly, it was a 2-1 game. This opened things up, and the Kings slowly started getting the best of the scoring chances. In particular, the line of Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Toffoli got denied by Crawford on a number of shots in tight. Alec Martinez also appeared to have an open net on a wraparound, but Martinez never really was able to direct the puck on net with Johnny Oduya defending. As we headed into the third, there weren't too many worries on the Kings' bench, and after Quick came up with a huge sliding stop on Nick Leddy, it was time for LA to capitalize on their advantage.
It started, as so much of the playoffs' offense has, with Drew Doughty. The fourth line got a cycle going, and after Dustin Brown jumped on the ice, his pass was deflected right into Doughty's path. Doughty faked a one-timer, slid closer to the center, and fired a wrist shot past Corey Crawford with Mike Richards providing the screen. Soon after, Toews went to the box, and much like Kopitar, he was helpless when his team allowed a power play goal. Doughty held the puck in, dragged, moved to the boards, and blindly passed back to Alec Martinez in the high slot. With Williams and Brown providing the screen this time, Martinez scored to make it a 3-2 game with 12:22 to go.
That's where the good times ended. LA immediately stopped generating chances, and it only took four minutes for Chicago to tie the game again. Kane spent the final period with way too much space, and when he carried the puck up towards the point, Trevor Lewis made the mistake of following him despite Muzzin also being in pursuit. Kane's perfect pass against the grain found Duncan Keith, and with Lewis following him in vain, Keith beat Quick. The final nerve-wracking minutes seemed to be going LA's away, as Chicago only got one shot attempt in the final 7:00. However, Kane once again was given too much room on that shot. Everyone backed off instead of checking Kane, and though Kane didn't dangle through the defense, he didn't need to; there was plenty of traffic to prevent Quick from stopping his shot.
Darryl Sutter doesn't subscribe to the "pull your goalie early" school of thought, and though LA got a number of whacks at the puck in the final seconds, they sure could have used a few extra seconds. Doughty got the puck after a long rebound but ran out of time, and Chicago had swiped Game 6 from under LA's noses. LA was really good for a number of stretches tonight; however, those stretches came with LA losing or tied, and not when they had the lead. This series has been unique for a number of reasons, and the inability of either team to hold a lead long-term is one of them. It sets up a wild Game 7, and though Chicago has won the last two, LA has never looked out of their element. We'll see what happens.