Kings goalie Jonathan Quick has allowed 59 goals in 21 playoff games for a .906 save percentage. (Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)
Chicago — Let’s get to the news first: The Rangers are cooked.
It hardly mattered in that sense — but only in that sense — whether the Kings or Blackhawks won Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. The task falls to Los Angeles after a 5-4 overtime win Sunday night, but the truth is either would have thumped New York. The series that just ended was the real Stanley Cup Finals.
The difference between the two best teams in the game, not coincidentally the NHL’s last two champions, turned out to be about as wide as Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy’s right shoulder. That’s where the shot from the left point by Kings defenseman Alec Martinez (Rochester) struck first, a little less than six minutes into overtime, before the puck bounced up and traced a lazy arc over goaltender Corey Crawford’s desperate attempt to readjust his glove hand on the fly. No surprise there.
Both of Los Angeles’ previous playoff series — against San Jose and Anaheim — went to seven games, and it won both deciding games on the road. In all, the Kings faced elimination seven times and won them all. They trailed three times in this one, by two goals early, in a building where the Blackhawks had gone 7-1 throughout the postseason.
“We’d prefer not to get to Game 7,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. “But when you’re playing the defending champion, there’s a good chance of it. As I said earlier, when it was 3-3 coming into tonight, it could have been the other way, the three wins and the three losses.
“We said if we won this game,” he added a moment later, “it was going to be a great series. That was our mindset.”
Sutter wasn’t just being his usual deadpan self.
There hasn’t been a playoff series any better than this one in hockey for a while, or in any other game for that matter. Two games went to overtime and the first of those, Game 5, featured a withering stretch of uninterrupted up-and-down play in the first overtime that lasted nearly eight minutes without a whistle. It took roughly 26 minutes to televise the 20 minutes of running clock time.
Turns out the Rangers and Kings split their only two meetings this season, but Los Angeles went 20-7-3 in its games against the rest of the junior varsity, as plenty of hockey insiders dubbed the Eastern Conference, for a winning percentage of 70 percent. The Blackhawks went 19-7-6 against the East (69 percent), but it’s not just at the top where the West is best. The rest of the Western Conference posted a slightly less scintillating 55 percent win total overall, averaging nearly a quarter of a goal more (2.74 vs. 2.52) per game.