Winning Goal

One Shot Away

Winning Goal

The puck just moments before getting past Corey Crawford to end the Western Conference Final. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys the way we competed in some tough situations, down 3‑1. One shot away from going to try to do it again.”

Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville looked a bit shell shocked as he said those words in his postgame press conference last night after Game 7. Minutes before, Alec Martinez had taken a pass from Justin Williams and shot it from the left point. A bounce here, a bounce there, and the Kings ended what has perhaps been the best Stanley Cup Playoffs series in recent memory.

I didn’t think the Kings had it in them. Sure they overcame the 0-3 deficit against the San Jose Sharks. Sure they got past Anaheim. But this was the Chicago Blackhawks. This was a team that had the speed, the precision passing, the goaltending, the big bodies and, most importantly, the Cup. Although the Kings were healthier coming into this year’s rematch, I still didn’t like them getting past the champs.

But Game 2 happened when they overcame a 2-0 deficit to win 6-2 in Chicago. Everything changed from that moment. The Kings had a chance.

Their first chance to close out the series in Game 5 in Chicago was unsuccessful, but it brought us the Perfect Period: the first overtime period that saw hockey at its best, a 20-minute period played in 26 minutes including seven minutes, 56 seconds of uninterrupted play.

Of course this series was going to have a Game 7. Even when the Kings trailed 2-0 in the opening period, they were going to come back. I knew better than to count these guys out especially when they had Mr. Game 7 on their side. Of course Justin Williams tied the game in the first period 2-2 and got the assist on the overtime game winner.

Today the Hawks are starting their summer vacations, but they were one shot away from winning the damn thing. That’s what made this series so compelling. Like the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals between the Sacramento Kings and Lakers, this was tightly fought and had its moments of heroics and answered prayers. It’s a shame this couldn’t have been a best-of-nine series or the Stanley Cup Final itself. So it’s no surprise that it set a ratings record for NBC Sports Net according to Puck Daddy. With a 3.17 overnight national rating, it was the most-watched game in the network’s history including the Stanley Cup Final.

The talk of the Final is now the King versus the Kings. Apart from Kings fans and Rangers fans, the Cup Final is going to pale in comparison to the Western Conference Final. Hopefully it’s not like the 2002 NBA Finals where the Lakers swept the New Jersey Nets in an anticlimactic fashion.

But does anyone see the Rangers winning? Does anyone see the Kings winning in less than five games? But a note of warning: I’ve been wrong at every point of these playoffs. I said San Jose in 7, Kings in 6, Blackhawks in 6. Sure the Kings could win in 5, but then again…