The Los Angeles Kings reached the Stanley Cup Finals with an overtime win at Chicago and will face the New York Rangers in the first championship round in a major sport between the two largest U.S. markets since 1981.
The Kings won 5-4 against the defending champion Blackhawks, becoming the first team in National Hockey League history to win three decisive Game 7s on the road in one postseason.
Game 1 of the finals is scheduled for June 4 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the first championship game between teams from the two top U.S. markets since the New York Yankees lost the 1981 World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Major League Baseball.
The Blackhawks, who won two straight games to force Game 7 after falling behind three games to one in the series, never trailed last night until Alec Martinez’s winning shot five minutes, 47 seconds into the extra period.
“We had a chance in Game 5, Game 6 and we finally got the job done in Game 7,” Kings captain Dustin Brown told reporters. “So now we get back to L.A., get a couple of days and we got to get ready to go because everything we talked about is really for nothing if we can’t win four more.”
Martinez’s shot from the point deflected off Chicago defenseman Nick Leddy and floated past goalie Corey Crawford. At first it appeared to also deflect off Kings center Tyler Toffoli, who was initially credited with the winning goal on the Kings’ website.
“I didn’t really know until they started going nuts,” Martinez said in a televised interview. “It’s an awesome feeling, I’m so proud of these guys.”
Patrick Sharp scored twice for Chicago, while Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews also scored for the Blackhawks, who scored twice in the opening nine minutes of the game at the United Center in Chicago.
Toffoli, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams and Marian Gaborik also scored for the Kings, who won the Stanley Cup title in 2012. Gaborik’s goal, a backhanded flip of a rebound past Crawford, tied the game 4-4 with less than eight minutes remaining in regulation and forced the overtime.
It was the first time Game 7 of a conference finals had gone to overtime since 1994, when the Rangers defeated the New Jersey Devils 2-1 in two overtimes and went on to win a Stanley Cup title. Until this year, it had been the last time the Rangers made it to the finals.
“I’ve lost some tough games, but nothing like tonight,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told reporters.
The Kings now will start preparing for the Rangers, who have had a chance to rest since finishing off the Montreal Canadiens in six games in the Eastern Conference finals on May 29 when goalie Henrik Lundqvist got his ninth career playoff shutout in a 1-0 win at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
“Lundqvist is a world-class goalie, he has been one of the best goalies for the last several years and they’re a very defensive-minded team much like ourselves,” Brown said in the Kings’ locker room, “so it’s going to be a grind.”