The final game of the Western Conference Finals came down to overtime, with the Kings coming out on top. Here are some of the most eye-popping numbers from the series’ final game. HP will continue the “By the numbers” series throughout the Stanley Cup Finals.
Game 7: Kings 5 Blackhawks 4 (OT)
Defense wins Stanley Cups, right? The Kings had the lowest goals against per game during the regular season, and utilizing their dominant puck-possession skills they were going to win every game 2-1 or 1-0 by squashing their opponents’ offensive tempo and scoring just enough to win. Right?
The Kings are leading the playoffs in goals per game. Their 3.48 goals per game average is so robust it would easily have placed them first had they performed at that rate during the regular season. But defensively, they are ceding an average of 2.86 goals against, which is a standard that would have placed them between the Pekka Rinne-less Predators and the Calgary Flames when prorating that average over the span of the regular season.
To put this in perspective, defensive sieves like Washington and Winnipeg allowed 2.79, and 2.82 goals against during the regular season, respectively. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick has not been his dominant playoff self – he has a .906 save percentage — and aside from Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin, all of L. A.’s other defensive pairings have had their struggles.
The Kings won Game 7 against the Blackhawks on the road because of their offense. They won Game 7s against Anaheim and San Jose because of their offense. Four of the top five point leaders in the playoffs are Kings players. After digging themselves into a two-goal hole in the first period of Sunday night’s series finale, the Kings evened the margin before Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp’s flukey goal. Los Angeles has erased multi-goal deficits rapidly all playoff long.
When the Kings were trailing 4-3 in the third period, Marian Gaborik, the NHL playoff leader in goals, scored to even up the game and force overtime. Gaborik’s goal was a collaboration of high-caliber passing, skating, and goal scoring touch by the Kopitar line. The Kings dominated the puck in Game 7, handily winning the Fenwick percentage contest at even strength. The Kings also possess three of the top nine leaders in points among defensemen, and it was Alec Martinez who won the game in extra time.
Still, it is probably Jeff Carter’s goal that reflects the Kings’ offense at its most unstoppable. Los Angeles had a two-on-three rush after a Johnny Oduya muffed slap shot. Dustin Brown took a shot at the top of the left circle, which Corey Crawford saved, but the puck bounced up in the air, and 6’4”, 200-pound Carter beat Marcus Kruger and Oduya to the front of the net and batted the puck in. How does an opponent stop a player that big who is that fast? Carter won the race easily against two good skaters!
This was a very fast contest between two teams aggressively charging into the offensive zone, and trying to ward off the ensuing counterattack. The Kings happened to be a little bit better at funneling pucks toward the net and beating the defense to the rebound.
2) +39.1, +39.1, +36.4
Those are the Relative Fenwick percentages on five on five for Chicago’s Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, and Patrick Kane. That line was superb, consistently applying pressure on the Kings defense with their strength on the puck and passing. The Kings had no answer for Saad during the last three games, as his dynamism helped his line consistently get scoring chances when the Kings hedged on Kane.
The Kings were more bellicose as the series wore on, but Chicago is a team that excels at playing through contact. In the NFL, there is a statistic called YAC (yards after contact), and the Blackhawks have consistently been one of the premier teams in the NHL at fighting through the physical punishment, maintaining puck possession, and advancing the puck. The Saad-Shaw-Kane line particularly excelled at that.
An interesting aspect of the Blackhawks’ success at even strength was their ability to exploit the Kings off their line changes. The switching of personnel leads to temporarily scrambled defensive coverage, and Chicago recognized the chance to seize invaluable time and space. In fact, Saad’s first goal came on a zone entry off the Kings’ line change, and it allowed the Blackhawks to gain footing in the offensive zone, with Kane finding Saad below the icing line.
The power play discrepancy would have been the storyline if the Blackhawks had won Game 7. Chicago received five man-advantage opportunities versus the Kings’ two. Chicago converted on two of their chances, while the Kings collected no goals and zero shots on theirs. Nevertheless, the Kings dominated Fenwick percentage at even strength by a large margin.
If Chicago had won, there would have been a case to make that the men in stripes had decided the game, especially since a few of the penalties against the Kings seemed iffy. It would have been controversial that the Kings dominated puck possession, but did not draw a higher amount of power-play chances.
4) 14, 14, 13, 12
Those are the even-strength shots for totals recorded for Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Marian Gaborik. Unsurprisingly, a team like the Kings wants its impact players to get as many shots as possible at net. The highest amount of even-strength shots for among Blackhawks forwards was that of role player Ben Smith, who had 12.
Doughty and Anze Kopitar did not play their best in Game 7, so it was vitally important for the Kings to receive high-end contributions from other key players, who excelled at attacking off the zone entry, facilitating the rush in the neutral zone, winning the one-on-ones along the boards, and beating the Chicago defense to the net for rebound opportunities.
Credit also should be doled out to the linemates of Brown, Carter, Richards, and Gaborik for their work to get those four players into areas where they could shoot. The Kings’ forwards did some great work in the corners, took the hits in their own zone to embolden the transition, and were very calculating in how they dumped in the puck. Whether the puck was chipped in on the short side or the far side, the Kings understand which area gives their teammates in pursuit on the forecheck the best chance to succeed.
When Marian Gaborik scored off a rebound on a Dustin Brown shot, the Kings were outshooting Chicago 10-5 in the third period. But the Blackhawks were hardly playing in a defensive shell – the game-tying goal came off a peerless transition by Los Angeles, enabled by all three Blackhawks forwards being caught deep in the offensive zone. Ultimately, Chicago conceded too many good chances to a Kings team that was having success on their forecheck and rush.
After that goal, the Blackhawks recalibrated, and had a pushback of their own, making the final third-period shot total merely 14-13 in the Kings’ favor. But for the 12 minutes and 43 seconds it took for the Kings to tie the game in the third period, they controlled the pace. When the game reached overtime, one innocent shot would determine the fate of who would represent the Western Conference in the Cup finals.
Sam Hitchcock writes extensively about the NHL and is the founder and writer of intelligenthockey.com. You can follow him on Twitter @IntelligHockey.