LOS ANGELES — As their teammates scuffled around the Kings net after the second-period horn, Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford skated off to their benches. But Quick made a bit of a detour when he saw Crawford standing at the blue line watching the action. He jawed at Crawford and bumped him with his left shoulder.
Crawford barely budged, his face stone cold, mockingly shaking his gloves as if to say, “Let’s go.”
Yes, there’s plenty of fight left in these Blackhawks.
Duncan Keith tied Game 6 of the Western Conference final with 8:26 left and Patrick Kane — in another virtuoso postseason performance in a career full of them — won it with 3:45 to go as the Hawks once again staved off elimination, beating the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in a sensational back-and-forth thriller at Staples Center on Friday night.
With their second straight win on the brink, the Hawks set the stage for a Game 7 showdown at the United Center on Sunday night — winner goes to the Stanley Cup Final. The Kings already have won two Game 7s on the road this postseason and are 6-0 in elimination games this spring. But the Hawks are now 13-0 in Games 5-7 since last spring, and 5-0 when facing elimination.
“That’s the way the team’s been all year — we don’t give up,” Crawford said.
No, the Hawks may be tired. They may be running on fumes, even. They may be up against a team every bit as good — if not better — than they are. But they don’t do moral victories. Keith said before the game that nobody in the Hawks’ dressing room was satisfied with “just” getting to the Western Conference final. Then, with nine minutes left in their Stanley Cup championship defense, he and Kane made the big shots, Crawford made the big stops, and a host of other players made big plays to keep the frantic Kings at bay and send the series back to Chicago.
The Hawks might have the most talented roster in the NHL. But in games like these, games that the Hawks just keep winning, it goes beyond sheer skill and veers into intangible territory. At some point, the indefinable — character, grit, heart — become inescapable.
“That’s what we’re all about,” Keith said. “You’re born with a certain amount of skill, but it’s what you put into it, how much you care. We’ve got a lot of guys that care in this room. Everybody does.”
The magnitude of the game was lost on neither team, and it showed early as both teams came out hesitant and sloppy in the early going. But shortly after the Hawks slogged through their 24th straight road power play without a goal, the Kings struck first. Jarret Stoll beat Brent Seabrook to the puck behind the Hawks net and fed a charging Dwight King, who ripped a shot past Crawford to give the Kings a 1-0 lead.
But things changed quickly in the second period. Just 20 seconds in, Anze Kopitar was sent to the box for holding Jonathan Toews, and Kane executed a perfect little give-and-go with Toews for his first goal of the series, and the Hawks’ first road power-play goal since Game 1 against St. Louis. A couple of minutes later, Ben Smith took a Patrick Sharp pass and raced in on Quick, but was steered wide. But a quick-thinking and quick-handed Smith snuck the puck in behind Quick, banking it in off Quick’s skate for a 2-1 lead, leaving Staples Center stunned into silence.
From there, the game started to resemble Game 5 — a track meet with end-to-end rushes and chances both ways.
“The last two games have been pretty wild, to say the least,” Kane said.
The pace favored the Hawks, and Crawford was sensational throughout. While Quick made the biggest stop of the period — getting his glove on a Sharp shot on a two-on-none with Marcus Kruger — it was Crawford who starred. In one sequence midway through the period, the Kings’ vaunted “70s Line” bombarded Crawford with point-blank chances, only to come up empty each time. Crawford stopped 13 shots in the second period alone.
But the Kings, every bit as resilient as the Hawks, weren’t done.
Drew Doughty and Alec Martinez scored less than two minutes apart early in the third period to give the Kings a 3-2 lead and reawaken the arena. But at their most desperate, the Hawks were at their best.
Keith scored off a terrific Kane setup at 11:34 after a frantic couple of minutes. Then, at 16:15, Kane hung on to the puck as he skated around the offensive zone before he found his shooting lane, firing through an Andrew Shaw screen and sending the Kings to their second straight defeat, and sending the Hawks back to Chicago for a winner-take-all Game 7.
It’s just the latest in a long line of character-revealing victories for these Hawks. It’s about skill, yes. It’s about offense and defense and goaltending and Xs and Os and everything else. But at some point, it’s about something more, too. Something the Hawks have found, and something the Kings will have to find yet again.
“We’re just willing our way to getting those bounces and getting those chances right now,” Jonathan Toews said. “If you want it bad enough, you can will your way to getting things to go your way. We’re doing that right now.”