LOS ANGELES — Patrick Kane managed just one assist in the first four games of the Western Conference finals. The Los Angeles Kings took all time and space away from Chicago’s goal-scoring star while pushing the Blackhawks to the brink of elimination.
Chicago is still alive because Kane was still determined to find open ice, such as the patch near the painted Stanley Cup logo at Staples Center where he scored the goal that sent this thrilling series to Game 7.
Kane set up Duncan Keith’s tying goal with 8:26 left before scoring the winner with 3:45 to play, propelling the Blackhawks to a 4-3 victory over the Kings in Game 6 on Friday night.
Kane’s career has been defined by his brilliance in the Blackhawks’ biggest moments, and his tiebreaking goal will rank among the best. After barely touching the scoresheet early in the series, Kane has scored seven points in Chicago’s consecutive dramatic victories, capped by his dangle for a seeing-eye goal past Jonathan Quick.
“I didn’t see anything off the rush,” Kane said. “I took it up the line and tried to get a shot through. I think (Andrew Shaw) was in front getting a great screen. Luckily, it went in.”
The conference finals rematch between the NHL’s last two champions will be decided in a winner-take-all Game 7 — the third of the post-season for the Kings, who are 6-0 in elimination games this spring. Chicago has won nine of its last 11 playoff elimination games heading home to the United Center on Sunday night.
The winner hosts the New York Rangers on Wednesday.
After trailing with less than nine minutes to play in Game 6, the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks avoided elimination for the second straight game in an already memorable playoff series between two NHL powers at the top of their games. Chicago is heading home with a chance to advance thanks to the forward who saves his best for the brightest lights.
“It’s amazing what he can do in these big games when our season is on the line,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said about Kane. “Nobody else seems to be able to do it the same way he does. It’s pretty amazing.”
Both teams blew late leads in the third period, and Drew Doughty was primed to be Los Angeles’ hero with a tying goal and a tiebreaking assist on Alec Martinez’s score with 12:22 left. But after Kane took control, Corey Crawford came up with several late saves as Chicago hung on.
“There is the ‘Wow’ factor in this series, especially the last two games,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve got two competitive teams that have experience in the situation. It’s been amazing. I mean, as good as it gets.”
Chicago trailed 3-1 in the conference finals after its second straight loss at Staples Center on Monday, but the Blackhawks prolonged the series with an epic double-overtime victory in Game 5.
Crawford, who made 26 saves, exchanged harsh words and contact with Quick after the second-period horn. Quick, who has yielded nine goals in the last two games, had just been hit by Shaw, Chicago’s agitator.
Dwight King scored an early goal and Doughty played 26 minutes in another dynamic game for the Kings, who were half a period away from clinching their second trip to the Stanley Cup finals in three years.
“I’m frustrated, but I’m over it pretty quickly,” Doughty said. “And we’ve got another game to play, Game 7. We’ve had two chances to close out this series, and we are not going to blow a third one.”
Chicago led 2-1 entering the third after getting goals from Kane and Ben Smith early in the second period, and Staples Center echoed with worry until Doughty tied it with 14:28 left with a wrist shot past a screened Crawford for his third goal in four games.
Doughty then fed Martinez for a low shot through traffic, putting the Kings ahead 3-2 and setting off a deafening celebration. A few minutes later, it turned to silence when Keith and Kane beat Quick.
“We get the privilege of playing with a guy like that every day and seeing what he can do,” Keith said of Kane. “You know when it comes down to crunch time, him and Johnny (Toews), I don’t know if there are two other guys I’d rather have on my team.”
But Kane was just one problem for Los Angeles’ normally solid defence, which gave up numerous scoring chances.
“I feel like I’m a broken record here, but we’ve got to be sharp in our own end,” Martinez said. “We weren’t making plays that we normally make. We’ve got to be quick to contact on them. We weren’t very sharp.”