Congratulations, Chicago Blackhawks. You're still alive in the playoffs and still have a chance to defend your Stanley Cup. But before you start booking tickets for New York City, let's take a step back and fully realize what you've done. By forcing Game 7, the team on the other side of the ice may have lost momentum after you erased their 3-1 series lead, but the Los Angeles Kings are still the best Game 7 team going. They're built for this and they're good at it.
So the Blackhawks asked for it. They didn't have a choice. By losing three of the first four games in the Western Conference Final, the only path to the Stanley Cup would go through a Game 7 against the most battle-hardened of opponents. They probably should have planned ahead.
The two clubs will now meet Sunday in Chicago with both having the chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final where they'll meet the New York Rangers.
Twice this postseason, the Kings have had to really work to force Game 7 by coming from behind in each of their first two series. Now the roles are reversed, with the Blackhawks playing the role the Kings were all too familiar with in their last two series. Does that change anything? It very well could, but the Kings' track record of success shows that this is the situation they are rather comfortable in.
With their backs against the wall, the Kings seem to have a heightened sense of urgency and somehow go from a really good hockey team to an unstoppable force. Jonathan Quick morphs into a solid goaltender into an impenetrable fortress.
After erasing a 3-0 series deficit to the San Jose Sharks, the Kings blasted their cross-state rival 5-1. Quick made 39 saves as their offense came alive to overwhelm a San Jose team that had four opportunities to end that series.
The Kings came back again, erasing a 3-2 series deficit against the Anaheim Ducks. Again, they overwhelmed their opponents with the series in a single-game elimination situation, earning a 6-2 win.
Eleven total goals in the last two Games 7 the Kings have played in.
The club also won a Game 7 last postseason when they ousted the Sharks in the second round with a 2-1 victory.
Over those three games, Quick posted a spectacular .957 save percentage. He's been pretty much lights out in this situation in the past. In the six total games he's played in this postseason with the Kings facing elimination, Quick has a .956 save percentage, right in line with what he's done in Games 7.
With the pressure at its most intense, Quick seems to rise to the occasion and has the capability of stealing a game. He hasn't needed to do it in Game 7s this postseason, but knowing he has that ability should be comforting.
All of LA's regulars have now played in at least two Game 7s and four that have played in six. Mike Richards, Marian Gaborik and Justin Williams have never lost in a Game 7 in six tries. Jeff Carter hasn't yet played in a losing effort in four Game 7s.
Williams has developed the moniker of “Mr. Game 7” as he has 12 total points including six goals. Of the six Game 7s he's played in, he's scored a goal in five. One more goal and Williams will tie Glenn Anderson for most Game 7 goals of all time. Yeah, that nickname fits.
Heck, even head coach Darryl Sutter has done extremely well in the Game 7 situation. He is 6-3 all-time behind an NHL bench. If the Kings win Sunday, Sutter will have the most Game 7 wins of any coach, appropriately at seven.
But even with all of LA's success in Game 7, this has a different feel. That role reversal has been interesting to watch as the Blackhawks showed all the desperation a team in their situation should, but the Kings have been there before. They knew what to expect. They couldn't close out the series however and now their season is in peril.
Chicago has actually been in this situation before. They faced a 3-1 deficit last postseason against longtime rival Detroit Red Wings in the conference semifinals. The Blackhawks ended up coming all the way back, beating the Wings in overtime of Game 7. Defenseman Brent Seabrook scored the overtime winner in that one.
Should the Blackhawks pull this off, they'll become the second team to win a Conference Final when trailing 3-1 and the first team in NHL history to overcome a 3-1 series hole in back-to-back postseasons.
Chicago is a team that lacks that Game 7 experience, even if they've had plenty of experience closing series out. Marian Hossa is the Blackhawks' leader with seven career Game 7s under his belt. His teams have gone 2-5 in that situation, while Hossa has collected five assists. He is the only Blackhawks player with more than two career points in a Game 7.
Corey Crawford, meanwhile, has appeared in two Game 7s in his young career. He has a .954 save percentage, while going 1-1. He does have the benefit of winning his team's last two elimination games, looking better after a dreadful start to Game 5 and putting forth a solid showing in Game 6. This will likely be the biggest test of his career, including last year's Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins.
Head coach Joel Quenneville, who made a lot of the right calls in Games 5 and 6, will be coaching in his fifth Game 7. He has gone 2-3 over that span.
While the Kings have the benefit of experience, Chicago seems to have momentum on their side. They'll also have home ice. Home teams have a .587 all-time winning percentage, but a 1-5 record in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 7. The Kings accounted for two of those road-team wins and are the first team in NHL history to play three Game 7s on the road in the same postseason.
There are so many factors at play that makes this game really hard to predict. With the way the Kings have played with their backs against the wall all postseason, it's hard to bet against them, but Chicago looked like their championship selves over the last two games.
This series has lived up to and surpassed the hype coming into it. When the puck drops at United Center on Sunday night, we'll be witnessing the conclusion of one of the best playoff series in recent memory and possibly an all-time great.
It should be an incredible night for hockey and the victorious team.