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KINGS AT BLACKHAWKS
(Best-of-7 series tied 3-3)
TV: NBCSN, CBC, RDS
Big story: The Chicago Blackhawks lost three of the first four games in the Western Conference Final, then tried to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of the Los Angeles Kings heading into Game 5 by insisting all the pressure was on Los Angeles to end Chicago's reign as NHL champions. But in reality, Chicago was the one with the onus of winning Games 5 and 6 or seeing its hopes of a second straight Stanley Cup end.
The Blackhawks did just that, meaning each team faces a win-or-go-home situation Sunday at United Center. The Blackhawks are coming off a 4-3 win at Los Angeles in which they overcame a one-goal deficit with less than nine minutes in regulation. The Kings have already won two Game 7s this spring. If the first six games are any indication, neither team will give an inch.
Kings: They've been close to ending this series the past two games, so the frustration level is pretty high for the Kings. They've just missed some chances that would've made them victorious in Game 5 or 6, and the Blackhawks, including goalie Corey Crawford, have made some great plays around the net to thwart other opportunities.
So it's onto their third straight Game 7. The Kings are only the third team in NHL history to need a Game 7 to decide each of its first three series, and they're the first to play all three on the road. If they win, they'll be the first team to make the Stanley Cup Final by winning three consecutive Game 7s.
Forward Justin Williams, one of three Kings who is 6-0 in Game 7s, is glad to have the opportunity to advance.
"I'll take it," Williams said Saturday after the Kings arrived in Chicago. "If we have to play 28 games this year to win, and that's what it takes, then that's what we have to do. You know, we're using all our lifelines so far and we plan on getting the job done yet again."
In order to do it, they have to win a second game in Chicago. The Kings know they can win at United Center after stunning the Blackhawks 6-2 in Game 2, but they're not concerned about the past.
"I think most guys on our team treat Game 7s as an opportunity, an opportunity to do something special, an opportunity to prove yourself, an opportunity to advance and get the better of a team that you battled with for six games," Williams said. "Right now we're just forgetting all this other junk that's going on. We're in Game 7. The best team's going to win tomorrow, and that's that. And we're going to make sure it's us."
Blackhawks: Chicago played its best road game of the series in Game 6 on Friday at Staples Center and pushed the series to the limit thanks to some third-period heroics by forward Patrick Kane, who set up the tying goal and scored the winner. Kane's effort means that for the second straight postseason, the Blackhawks have forced a deciding game in a series they trailed 3-1.
If they win, the Blackhawks will become the first team in NHL history to overcome that deficit to advance in consecutive postseasons. Doing so would add to a long list of special postseason accomplishments for the defending champions during the past five seasons. How do they keep beating the odds?
"Competitive guys," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Saturday. "They find a way. They overcome a lot of different challenges. They want to win. [Friday] night is a good example, Game 5, same situation. Down [in both] third periods and it doesn't look good. They don't change their approach. We know we have some guys that can make plays and have some ability to score. And it's always there, as well. We're playing a really good team that has a lot of similar attributes we do, but I commend the guys for what they've accomplished and how they handle big situations."
Chicago doesn't have as much Game 7 experience as Los Angeles, but the Blackhawks do know how to close out a series. Since 2009-10, they are 11-2 in potential series-clinchers, including 2-0 this spring.
Who's hot: Kings defenseman Drew Doughty had a goal and an assist in the third period of Game 6 and has three goals and six points in his past four games. … Kane topped his four-assist performance in Game 5 by scoring two goals, including the winner, and setting up defenseman Duncan Keith's game-tying goal in the third period of Game 6. He has eight goals and nine assists in 18 games this spring, including eight points (two goals, six assists) -in the past three games.
Injury report: Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr has skated for a week but is doubtful to play. He's been sidelined with a knee sustained from Game 1 of the second-round series against the Anaheim Ducks. … The Blackhawks report no injuries.