June 1, 2014 is a date which will be forever etched into the hearts and souls of true hockey fans everywhere. The Los Angeles Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in OT of Game 7 of the Western Conference final. This was the first time since the New York Rangers' epic double OT victory over the New Jersey Devils in the 1994 Eastern Conference final, that a Conference final had gone to an OT in Game 7. The answer to the 1994 trivia question, is "Stephane Matteau". The answer to the 2014 trivia question, is "Alec Martinez". The question of course, is "Who scored the Game 7 OT series-winning goal in the Conference championship ?"
This playoff year has been quite the rollercoaster ride for the Kings and their fans. In Round 1, they dropped the first three games to San Jose before winning four straight. In Round 2, they won the first two games of the series, then dropped three straight, before winning the last two. This series against Chicago was much the same. Yet another series which went the full seven games. This time, the Kings lost the first game, then won three straight before losing two in a row to set up this epic Game 7, which they won. This marked the third time in this series, that the Kings had fallen behind 2-0 to Chicago; the Kings came back to win all three games. In doing so, the Kings became the first team ever to win three Game 7's on the road, in the same playoff year.
Justin Williams and Alec Martinez spoke with media after Game7:
What went through your mind when you saw it (OT goal) went in?
ALEC MARTINEZ: "I didn't know it went in until I saw Stolly going bananas there. He was getting pretty excited. That's when I just started celebrating, too. I didn't really see it go in. I know it went off a couple bodies. I just tried to get it through and fortunately it went in."
Justin, when Darryl (coach Sutter)was in here he said, Right now the road through the Western Conference goes through the Blackhawks. With how tough the series was, do you expect that's going to be the case for years to come?
JUSTIN WILLIAMS: "Well, if we win, they're going to have to come through us. It's the whole 180 thing. Obviously it wasn't a rivalry until we won. We won the series. But, hey, listen, this is three-quarters of the way. This isn't the whole way. We have a big, big challenge ahead of us. We're proud of the way we've performed so far but won't be satisfied. Certainly have a lump in my throat if we don't follow through with our ultimate goal."
Chicago Head Coach Joel Quennville also spoke with media:
Was it hard to get a full 60 minutes out of this (Blackhawks) team? Were they running on fumes?
COACH QUENNEVILLE: "I thought the ice was really heavy tonight. I thought both teams were trying to fight through it. You look at what happened in these last three games, the unpredictability from the start, the emotion, the intensity, playing the right way. So, you know, I thought both teams left it out there. Unfortunately, somebody had to lose, you know. Tough ending."
In the Stanley Cup final vs New York Rangers, the Kings will finally have home ice advantage for the first time in this year's playoffs.
The Kings have definitely earned it this postseason. In 2012, when they won their first ever Stanley Cup championship, it was a much different story. In that playoff year, the Kings won the first three games of each series, including the Cup final, so there was very little drama. This year they have had to go the distance in every series so far, and have survived all three dogfights. This is what a Stanley Cup run is really supposed to be like; blood sweat and tears. Their opponent in this year's Cup final, had to win two Game 7's this postseason. This will not only be a matchup of two battle-tested teams, but also a battle of great goaltenders, as Jonathan Quick will be opposite Henrik Lundqvist, in a seven game series for all the marbles. Four wins now stand between the Kings, and their second Cup in three seasons. For the Rangers, this will be their first trip to the Cup final since that glorious run in 1994.
L.A. Kings Notes - Forwards Anze Kopitar (5g,19a), and Jeff Carter (9g,13a) lead the NHL in playoff scoring. Forward Marian Gaborik (12 goals) leads the NHL in playoff goal scoring. Defenseman Drew Doughty (4g,12a) leads all NHL defensemen in playoff scoring. Rookie forwards Tyler Toffoli (7g,6a) and Tanner Pearson (4g,8a) lead all NHL rookies in playoff scoring. The Kings are averaging 3.48 goals per game in the playoffs, which is currently best in the NHL.