Hockeywood’s Stanley Cup sequel is already halfway in the can. Can you handle more icing on the cake?
For as much as the earth shook in L.A. after the Kings captured their first National Hockey League championship in 45 years last summer by coming out of nowhere, the follow-up as one of the favorites has been nearly as much of a Richter scale rumbler, verified by Tuesday night’s 2-1 nail-biter over the San Jose Sharks to advance to the Western Conference finals.
One of the few things missing from Cup Version 2013 was a Game 7 in any of the four playoff series. This year’s run has already taken care of that built-in puckish drama.
While Justin Beiber may have caused the most tittering in the stands by his mere presence Tuesday, Justin Williams’ second-period goals within three minutes of each either sent off the most tweets among the Staples Center gathering.
“Timely goal tending and timely goals,” Williams said afterward when asked what decided this series. “Being at home gave us an extra push.”
After San Jose scored just five minutes into the third period to close the gap to within one, the Kings tighten up their defense in front of goalie Jonathan Quick and did something they hadn’t accomplished since 1989 – winning the final contest of a seven-game series on their home ice.
Back then, it was a guy named Gretzky who helped the Kings do it back at the Forum.
This time, it just another Quick stop.
The Kings jumped the Sharks to keep their title defense in tact by doing what had become the norm in this series – they scored first, and they won at home. This was the first time they’d have home-ice advantage in a playoff game in years as well, and this time it paid off.
Having now dispatched St. Louis in the first round and San Jose here in the second, next up is either the Chicago Blackhawks, who won the Western Conference with the league’s best record after the lockout ended in January, or the dangerous seventh-seeded Detroit Red Wings, who eliminated the Anaheim Ducks in the first round.
The Blackhawks and Red Wings have their own Game 7 to decide things tonight in Chicago. If the Blackhawks win, the Kings start their next series on the road; a Red Wings’ victory means the Kings open at home later this week.
The Red Wings, by the way, are the last NHL team to put together back-to-back titles in 1997-’98.
The Kings may have won all six playoff games at home this post-season coming into Tuesday’s game, and their last 13 in a row at Staples Center, but Game 7 scenarios are where all the scripts go out the window and ad-libbing often takes over.
Just ask Tom Cruise, one of the many Hollywood elite who found their way to a seat where the TV cameras could find them now that the Lakers’ playoff run is long finished.
“Don’t get too giddy #LAKings fans,” came the tweet from the team’s official Twitter account as the third period started with the Kings hanging onto a 2-0 lead and the crowd already celebrating. “We know better than anyone that ‘it ain’t over till its over.’”
Minutes into the third period, the Sharks took another penalty when Adam Burish was called for interference in the net against Quick. But Quick’s acting job in taking a pratfall didn’t sit well with the officials, who also penalized him for embellishment.
With both teams forced to use four skaters, the Sharks pulled to within a goal when defenseman Dan Boyle’s slapshot made it past Quick with 14 minutes, 34 left in the period, and quickly, it became nervous time.
Quick’s most acrobatic save down the stretch was practically laying on the ice and stretching his left glove out to stop a shot by Joe Pavelski with about five minutes to play. The Sharks then pulled their goalie with about 1 minute, 30 seconds to play to get an extra attacker against Quick, but it didn’t matter to last year’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner given to the finals most valuable player.
This was the fourth time in this series that one of the teams won by a 2-1 decision.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who came into the middle of last season to turn things around, was told before Tuesday’s game that the franchise had not played in a Game 7 in the last 11 years.
“Who cares?” he said in his typical dry fashion.
Now who cares that there’s just eight more wins to go for a repeat?