CHICAGO – The Los Angeles Kings kept playing through a slew of injuries. They kept coming when the Chicago Blackhawks jumped out to an early lead, and they tried everything to force another home game in the Western Conference finals.
They just couldn’t find a way this year.
Once Chicago’s Patrick Kane found his offensive game, it was all over for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards scored in the third period for Los Angeles, but Kane netted his third goal of the game 11:40 into the second overtime period to lift Chicago to a 4-3 victory on Saturday night and a spot in the Stanley Cup finals against the Boston Bruins.
“You don’t take much solace in losing,” Kings forward Justin Williams said. “It’s a bitter taste. Yeah, we were one of the final four, but that wasn’t our goal when we set out to start the season. We’re not able to defend what we did last year and that’s a frustrating thing.”
Los Angeles recovered after trailing 2-0 in the first period and 3-2 late in regulation in the longest game in franchise history. Dwight King had a short-handed goal, and Jonathan Quick finished with 31 saves.
“We got beat in the conference finals by the best team in the conference, at the end of the day,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. “We accomplished everything. Once you set the bar up there, then that’s your bar. So obviously we’re disappointed to lose to Chicago, but we’re certainly not disappointed in how we played.”
It was Richards’ first game since he took a big hit from Chicago’s Dave Bolland in the series opener, shelving the centre with a suspected concussion. But Sutter vaguely alluded to a handful of injuries, and captain Dustin Brown acknowledged that he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Game 6 of Los Angeles’ second-round series against San Jose.
Despite the injuries, which Sutter said were typical of a team at this point in the playoffs, the Kings gave themselves a chance.
“We played well in the second and third, and even overtime I think we had a lot of chances,” Richards said. “But give them credit, they played well and their goaltender made some big saves.”
Corey Crawford made 33 saves, and Duncan Keith scored in his return from a suspension as the top-seeded Blackhawks eliminated the Kings in five games.
Chicago will host the Eastern Conference champion Bruins in Game 1 on Wednesday night. Boston completed a sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.
“It’s a special couple places. The tradition of the Bruins and the Hawks is special,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “I’m sure, you know, the rivalry could return instantly come Game 1. I think it’s good for the league. It’s good for hockey. Two great hockey markets. We’re very excited to be a part of it.”
This is the first finals matchup of NHL Original Six franchises since 1979, and it will pit two of the last three champions against each other.
Chicago won the Cup in 2010, ending a 49-year drought. Boston captured the title the following year.
“Every series presents its challenges,” forward Patrick Sharp said. “Watching Boston, they’re rolling right now. Another tough series ahead of us.”
Kane was in the middle of a quiet post-season when he finished off Bryan Bickell’s shot for his third playoff goal in Chicago’s 3-2 win in Los Angeles on Thursday. The talented forward yelled in relief after that goal and came up with his best performance of the playoffs in Game 5.
After Crawford made a couple of big saves in the first overtime, Jonathan Toews carried the puck up the left side during a 2-on-1 rush in the second extra session. He then made a cross-ice pass to Kane, who one-timed a shot past Quick and into the right side.
“You know, the shift before, actually Jonny had the same play and the puck fumbled on him,” Kane said. “I knew he was coming back to me. Just tried to wait for the defenceman to go by me. Tried to get it off as quick as I could in the net.”
The rollicking sellout crowd of 22,237 erupted in joy as Kane started the celebration for the Blackhawks. A distraught Quick remained face down on the ice as his teammates emptied the bench for the post-series handshakes.
Chicago was poised to finish off Los Angeles in regulation when the Kings scored the tying goal with 9.4 seconds remaining. Kopitar took a long shot from the right side and Richards managed to tip it by Crawford, leading to a celebration for the Kings while the crowd groaned in disbelief.
“He’s a big heart-and-soul guy and comes up with a timely goal to push it to overtime, and we just couldn’t find a way to get that extra,” Kings centre Jarret Stoll said.
Crawford used his glove to deny Williams and Jake Muzzin in rapid succession midway through the first overtime. Bickell had an opportunity to end the game at the other end, but he was unable to corral Kane’s pass on a rush to the net.
The lost lead at the end of regulation turned into a minor inconvenience for the Blackhawks when Kane finished his second career post-season hat trick.
Los Angeles’ rally began when Williams made strong charge up the left side set up King’s short-handed goal at 9:28 of the second. The Kings tied it 2-2 when Kopitar pushed a rebound through Crawford’s legs 3 1/2 minutes into the third.
It was Kopitar’s first point of the series, and he snapped a six-game goal drought. It also was the third power-play goal allowed by the Blackhawks in 58 playoff chances.
The tie held until the Blackhawks took advantage of a bad break for the Kings to go in front again.
Williams had the puck behind the net when he fell, and Bickell made a slick pass to Kane, who beat Quick to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead with 3:52 remaining.
“We had some chances but you’ve got to bury your chances in overtime,” Los Angeles defenceman Matt Greene said. “They did a good job. They had a chance, they capitalized and that’s it. It’s overtime.”
NOTES: It was the 38th playoff game in the past two seasons for Los Angeles. … Toews and Bickell each had two assists. … The Kings’ previous longest game was a 4-3 double-overtime win at Vancouver on May 11, 1993.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap