So the Patrick Kane Show was on again Friday night, after being mostly pre-empted in the first four games of the Chicago Blackhawks-Los Angeles Kings playoff series.
Kane is this crazy lightning rod of a player, liked by some, loathed by others, but unquestionably and uncannily that rare sort that always seems capable of rising to the occasion. Wayne Gretzky was on the radio last week, talking about all manner of topics, and he noted that if there’s a player in today’s game he’d want to dish off some of those Hall Of Fame passes to, it would be Kane – funny beard, traditional mullet and all.
Coach Joel Quenneville has seen a lot of Kane’s heroics over the years, which is presumably why, when Kane was so quiet in the first four games of the series, just recording the single assist, he was supportive and complementary, and probably just had his fingers crossed that the turnaround would come, as it has so many times in the past.
“He’s a special player,” said Quenneville. “Like we talk about our team, the bigger the challenge, the bigger the situation, we don’t change. We welcome the challenge. He’s … he can get it done as good as anybody in the game.
“I don’t think there’s a player in the league that has the puck on his stick, time of possession over the course of a game, more. He sees plays, makes plays. The bigger the stage, the more he likes that challenge.”
Seizing that big stage, Kane followed up a four-point night Wednesday with a three-point night Friday after Quenneville shifted him to a line with Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad and after two consecutive one-goal victories, the Blackhawks are now tied 3-3 with the Kings in the Western Conference final, the winner-take-all seventh game set to go at the United Center Sunday night.
It has been a series for the ages, and the statistics support that contention. The Kings are just the third team in playoff history to play a Game 7 in each of the first three rounds and the first to play ever to play all three on the road. The other two, the 1993 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 2002 Colorado Avalanche, both ended up losing in the conference final.
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have only ever overcome a 3-1 series deficit once previously in franchise history, but it occurred in last year’s second round against the Detroit Red Wings. No NHL team has ever overcome 3-1 series deficits in consecutive years.
The New York Rangers await the winner when the Stanley Cup final opens next Wednesday night.
Saad is probably a revelation to some in this series, because of his ability to play the game with speed. The pesky Shaw’s return in Game 3 of the series added some needed depth down the middle and creates space for his line-mates because he is always going straight to the net, which helps open up seams for the other two. The chemistry on the unit was virtually instantaneous. But sometimes, it is simply Kane’s vision – and his patience with the puck - that permits him to find the necessary room to make plays.
“There's still not much room out there in this series,” said Kane. “Right now you have to take advantage of your opportunities when you do get space. Playing with two hard workers that work really hard to get the puck back, have made my life a lot better as far as getting the puck in good areas where I can make plays. I give the credit to Saader and Shawsy.”
Kane became the first player since the Vancouver Canucks’ Cliff Ronning in a 1992 Smythe Divisoin semi-final against the Winnipeg Jets to register three or more points in consecutive games with his team facing elimination Not everyone is buying into the myth of Kane the unstoppable, however. Kings defenceman Drew Doughty thought the score sheet in Wednesday’s victory suggested Kane had more of an impact on the game than he actually did, although he did concede Friday that on the tying and winning goals, the Kings didn’t do a good enough job taking away Kane’s time and space.
Kane’s ability to transcend those pressure moments doesn’t come as any surprise to defenceman Duncan Keith, who scored the third-period tying goal in Friday’s game on a neat, tight little feed in the offensive zone.
“Us players in here, we get the privilege of playing with a guy like that every day and seeing the things he can do,” said Keith. “Not everybody’s going to dominate a game every single game - there’s a lot of hockey, a lot of good teams and a lot of good players. But you know that when it comes down to crunch time, him and Jonny (Toews), I don’t really know if there’s two other guys I’d want to have on my team.”
The Kings are as battle-tested as the Blackhawks. They are a perfect 6-0 in elimination games this season and became just the fourth team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a series this year. Against both the San Joe Sharks and Anaheim Ducks in the first two rounds, the Kings won the deciding seventh game on the road. Considering their collective big-game pedigrees, it isn’t much of a coincidence that the Blackhawks and Kings have won three of the past four Stanley Cups.
"We've been in this spot a few times and we know how to deal with it," said Doughty. "We're still a confident group, even though we lost (Friday night), we're over it already. We're ready to move on. We're ready to win a game at the United Center.”
No team has ever won three seven-game series to advance to the Stanley Cup final, so the Kings have a chance to make a little history if they can win Sunday night in Chicago.
“The last two games have been pretty wild to say the least,” said Kane. “I'm sure it's fun for the fans to watch. But we know they're a resilient group. They've won two Game 7s on the road in their first two series. It's going to be a tough one. Right now we're happy we got the win, but it doesn't mean anything because we haven't won anything yet. We'll get ready for the next one and we know they'll bring the best for Game 7.”
“It's an ongoing challenge, a test every shift, every game,” added Quenneville. “We talk about the meaning and value of every shift being important. Against a team like that, there are no easy games or easy shifts. That four-line rotation is deep. (Marian) Gaborik, the (Jeff) Carter line has been special this series. That's the focus.”