LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Patrick Kane skated to a patch of open ice near the painted Stanley Cup logo and fired a long, low shot at the Los Angeles net, hoping to hit an invisible hole.
His Chicago Blackhawks teammates weren’t shocked when he found it.
Kane’s career has been defined by his brilliance in the Blackhawks’ biggest moments, and his tiebreaking goal with 3:45 to play in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals will rank among the best.
“There’s still not much room out there in this series,” Kane said. “Right now, you have to take advantage of your opportunities when you do get space.”
Almost nobody seizes an opportunity like Kane, who scored two goals and set up Duncan Keith’s tying goal with 8:26 left as the Blackhawks forced a decisive seventh game with a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night.
Game 7 is Sunday night in Chicago. The winner hosts the New York Rangers on Wednesday night.
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.”
Kane, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy last season, had one point in the series’ first four games. He has scored seven more in Chicago’s consecutive dramatic victories, capped by Kane’s dangle for a seeing-eye goal past Jonathan Quick, the 2012 Conn Smythe winner.
“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.
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 made 26 saves and exchanged harsh words with counterpart Jonathan Quick as the Blackhawks won for the ninth time in their last 11 elimination games.
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.”
Crawford exchanged contact and angry words after the second-period horn with Quick, who had just been hit by Shaw. Crawford shook his glove and blocker at his waist, miming his willingness to fight.
NOTES: The Blackhawks went with seven defencemen for Game 6, dressing Sheldon Brookbank for the first time since May 13. Kris Versteeg and Peter Regin were scratched. … Kings owner Phil Anschutz made a rare appearance at Staples Center. Prospective new Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and point guard Chris Paul also attended the game.