Epic Drama of Game 7 Goes the Way of the Kings
The seconds couldn't tick down quickly enough for the Kings holding on to a slim 2-1 lead against an always dangerous San Jose Sharks team.
"High pressure situation there at the end," goaltender Jonathan Quick admitted.
The standing-room only crowd of 18,593 were on their feet for the final minutes seemingly aging faster and faster with each icing call, with each blocked shot as the Sharks pulled goaltender Antti Niemi for the extra attacker in the last 97 seconds.
For an arena with high ceilings that has a reputation for being more like a library than a sporting venue, you could feel the tension in the air, the air pressure increasing as each second ticked off the clock. Sure the fans were screaming their heads off, but it seemed it was mostly to prevent themselves from collapsing from the butterflies in their stomachs.
Down in the Zamboni tunnel at ice level, a couple of the Kings ice girls were screaming at the top of their lungs each time the Sharks looked like they tied the game. As the clock ticked down the final seconds, the catharsis was brewing. Finally the horn sounded, the streamers exploded from the heavens and the loud whoosh of exhalation escaped the arena.
The Kings were going to continue on to the Western Conference Finals for the second consecutive season. The last time a defending Cup champion got this far was in 2009 when the Detroit Red Wings lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Finals.
It was the first time the Kings were hosting a Game 7 since 1989. They were 3-4 all time in Game 7 while the Sharks were 5-2. The Kings brought back sounds of last season using My Chemical Romance's "Black Parade" for their introduction for the first time this playoff season.
The two words "Game 7" evoke an epic struggle, two evenly matched teams fighting one last battle to determine who continues on in their journey and who retreats home. Both teams did just that in the opening stanza, the first 20 minutes neither wanting to give an inch.
Even when the Sharks for the first time this series took the first penalty on the game, a Joe Thornton getting a high stick on Mike Richards in the Kings zone, nothing came of it. Jeff Carter 21 seconds later got his stick high on Joe Pavelski in the Sharks zone which nullified that man-advantage.
There weren't a whole lot of offensive chances in that period, the Sharks holding the edge on shots on goal by a meager 5-3 margin.
"Both teams came out in the first period and played apprehensively," Quick said. "No one wanted to make the first mistake."
Things took a turn in the second period. On the power play, Slava Voynov broke his stick taking a shot from the high slot. The puck whizzed past to the right of Niemi but took a fortunate bounce off the board to Justin Williams' stick.
Sports can be funny. Sometimes the puck just finds the right person. Williams was 3-0 in previous Game 7 with three goals and four assists. So of course the puck found him at the crease. The puck bounced over Niemi's blocker and into the net.
"Sometimes you get a few more opportunities than you usually get," Williams said. "Sometimes you can't explain it."
Even more inexplicable was the second goal a few minutes later. It was the game in a microcosm: the Sharks get a great scoring opportunity, Quick stops both shots, the Kings come back down the ice and Justin Williams scores.
"I certainly enjoy pressure situations," Williams said. "I know everyone in this dressing room does."
But it was no time for the Kings to play loose. "If anything you want to bear down," Matt Greene said. "You want to keep the grind going, protect that lead. If anything you've got to get harder. Everything gets tighter."
Still, the Sharks now had the unenviable task of getting the puck past Quick three times at STAPLES Center, a feat they only accomplished once in five previous games this season. Dan Boyle got one in the third period from the high slot that contributed to some overdosing of heart pills.
But after 25 saves it was Quick and the Kings who will be facing the winner of tomorrow's Game 7 between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks.
Unlike the Game 7 between the Ducks and the Red Wings, the Rangers and the Capitals, both teams showed up to play. A bounce here, a bounce there, it easily could have been San Jose continuing on.
But the Kings will be a formidable team as they try and fight their way back into the Stanley Cup Finals to properly defend their title. Quick is back at Conn Smythe strength, the team has found the determination to get through adversity.
This is perhaps the first time this entire season I thought the team could have a chance to repeat as champions. But first things first.
The Kings will either host Detroit on Friday or play in Chicago on Saturday afternoon. Regardless David Beckham and his daughter Harper approves.