EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Drew Doughty had just played more than 39 minutes in a double-overtime playoff game, and he still couldn’t sleep on the Kings’ flight back to Los Angeles.
The Western Conference finals have ascended to a new level of tension after the Blackhawks dodged Los Angeles’ first attempt to eliminate them. Chicago trimmed its series deficit to 3-2 in an extra-time thriller in Game 5, while the Kings got a sleepless trip home.
Los Angeles gets another chance to advance in Game 6 on Friday night. While the Kings have been incredible in elimination games this spring, Doughty realizes they can’t sleep on the opportunity before them at Staples Center.
“We know we can’t let it go to a Game 7,” Doughty said Thursday at the Kings’ training complex. “No matter what, this game has to be ours. It’s so important for us to advance to the Stanley Cup Final that we win this game. If we give them this game, they’re going to have so much more life, and they’re going to be a different team. We need to take that and deal with it.”
Doughty’s fellow Kings largely agreed with the star defenceman’s pointed declarations as they recovered from their worst defensive performance in 16 games. Jonathan Quick and the NHL’s best defensive team gave up five goals to the Blackhawks, who survived despite Corey Crawford’s fourth straight unimpressive effort in Chicago’s net.
Los Angeles, which blew a lead heading to the third period for the first time this spring, has mostly downplayed the notion of payback for last season’s conference finals loss to Chicago. But Doughty thinks it should be on the Kings’ minds before what might be the defining game of their season.
“They know how to win,” Doughty said. “We also know that they took our Cup back from us last year, so now it’s our turn. We want to eliminate this team. They eliminated us last year, and it’s our turn to return the favour. We need to go into Staples believing that we can eliminate this team, and do just that.”
While Doughty attempts to keep the Kings focused on Game 6, the Blackhawks intend to remember what got them off the canvas in Game 5 after the previous seven periods of the series were largely dominated by Los Angeles.
Before Game 5, the Blackhawks curiously insisted all the pressure in the series rested on the Kings, not the team facing three straight elimination games. Whether the facile psychological ploy helped or not, the champions still seem to think Los Angeles is the team in trouble.
“We want to stay with the mentality that we’re putting all the pressure on them,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said before the club’s flight to the West Coast. “It’s going to be tough for them to close it out and win that fourth game against us.”
But the road has been tough on the Blackhawks, who are just 2-6 away from home in the post-season. Chicago was outscored 9-5 and beaten convincingly twice at Staples Center in this series, showing little of the offensive potency that got them to this point.
Coach Joel Quenneville made another round of lineup adjustments to spark his team, and the Blackhawks had immediate success teaming Brandon Saad, Patrick Kane and Andrew Shaw on a new line for Game 5. Kane, a ghost for much of the series, contributed four assists.
“We have our backs against the wall here and face elimination, but we’re staying relaxed,” said Saad, who had three points. “We’ve been through it before, and it definitely helps. We’ve had success on the road before, and L.A. is definitely tough, but we’re not going to let that end the season. We can’t make any excuses whether we’re playing at home or away.”
The Kings spent much of the past month avoiding playoff elimination, already winning six games with their season in the balance, so they can appreciate the Blackhawks’ resilience. Chicago produced a three-goal first period and a third-period tying goal before Michal Handzus’ overtime winner capped one of the most entertaining NHL post-season games in recent history.
Back home for Game 6, the Kings want their own defining victory.
“I think for the fans, it was unbelievable to watch,” said Marian Gaborik, who scored his 11th goal of a spectacular post-season. “But for us, it wasn’t the type of game we want to play. You know, trade chances, trade odd-man rushes.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of energy (in Game 6). If we win, we can be in the Stanley Cup Final. That itself should give you plenty of energy.”