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LOS ANGELES – Before the puck dropped for Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinal series on Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Kings channeled 2012. Their sound crew brought back the pregame video introduction by the band My Chemical Romance that was the soundtrack to their Stanley Cup drive last season.
Then they brought out the closers.
Justin Williams resurrected his Stanley Cup Playoffs with two second-period goals, and Jonathan Quick turned in yet another Conn Smythe-worthy performance in a 2-1 victory against the San Jose Sharks.
The defending Stanley Cup champions advanced to the conference finals against the Chicago Blackhawks or the Detroit Red Wings, who play Game 7 of their series on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS). A Chicago victory will send the Kings to United Center for Games 1 and 2 on Saturday and Sunday; A Detroit win means the Kings will host the Red Wings on Friday night.
"Hope for three overtimes," coach Darryl Sutter joked at the end of his press conference.
Sutter and the Kings could afford to exhale. This marked halfway through one big grind for L.A., which somehow advanced despite scoring 14 goals in the seven games and 26 goals in 13 postseason games. Veteran defenseman Matt Greene was the first to embrace Quick at the buzzer.
"We're happy we're moving on," Quick said. "To get four wins against them is very challenging and difficult. You're proud of the guys in the locker room that we're able to do it, but at the same time, you're only halfway up the mountain."
Down the hall an emotional Logan Couture expressed the disappointment of a San Jose team that had an opportunity to eliminate their rival on L.A.'s ice for the second time in three years, with the hockey world watching.
"It's heartbreaking," Couture said. "It's tough. It's been a long year. We battled hard to get where we were. We made some changes and played a good first round and forced, I think, the best team in the League to seven games, and almost beat them in their building. It's tough to take."
The Kings take a franchise-record 14-game home winning streak into the next round thanks to their first Game 7 win since Wayne Gretzky's hat trick in the 1993 conference finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Williams, who previously owned up to his lack of production in this year's playoffs as much as any King, came through with his first goals since Game 4 of the first round. He rose to the moment and has five goals in four career Game 7s -- all wins.
"Sometimes the puck just seems to find you," Williams said. "I scored two goals, but I feel like I could have had three or four tonight. I had a lot of opportunities in the second period and sometimes you just find holes and the puck bounces your way. If it wasn't me, I guarantee it would have been someone else tonight."
Quick continued to play the way he did last spring. He set the tone with a glove save on Logan Couture's backhander early in the second period and got his left arm out while sprawled to stop Joe Pavelski late in the third with L.A. protecting a 2-1 lead.
"You got to score there," Couture said of his chance. "I'm counted on to score goals. I got a chance like that, I got to score."
Dan Boyle scored for San Jose on a slap shot at 5:26 of the third period, but Quick was perfect after that – finishing with a trio of saves in the final 90 seconds with Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi pulled for an extra attacker. He made 13 of his 25 saves in the third period.
Quick has a .948 save percentage in the playoffs, even better than the .946 figure he posted in last year's postseason. A 2-0 lead with Quick in net in Game 7?
"You know that when push comes to shove and that big save needs to be made, he going's to make it for you," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "I can't tell you the volumes that speaks in the locker room. It's kind of an unsaid thing, but you just know it's there."
All seven games were won by the team scoring first, and Williams opened the scoring 4:11 into the second period during a power play on the Kings' first shot on goal in nearly 19 minutes.
Slava Voynov's shot missed wide left, but it came off the end boards and Niemi was unable to cover it at the post. Williams was free to poke away at the puck, and he whacked it past Niemi's right leg pad and into the net as Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun arrived too late.
With the crowd still roaring, Williams finished an odd-man rush and scored again at 7:08. Anze Kopitar fed him a pass on the left side that Williams stopped and snapped past Niemi.
San Jose imploded with a pair of offensive zone penalties 190 feet from its own net in the second period. Brent Burns knocked down Robyn Regehr to set up Williams' first goal, and Bracken Kearns tripped Jake Muzzin.
At the other end, the Sharks could only nibble at Quick. Matt Irwin had a pair of shots that squirted wide through traffic and that was about as close as the Sharks got.
San Jose really needed captain Joe Thornton to grab the game by his teeth but he finished with no shots on goal.
"It's tough," Thornton said. "They are a real good team. We thought we could come in here and steal a game. We played our hearts out and that's all you can ask of each other. We had to lay it on the line in the third and I thought we did. Jonathan Quick is just a fantastic goalie. It's a disappointing right now. We were just having so much fun. It's just disappointing that it has to end because we were really enjoying this. It's a tough way to finish."
The Sharks' lack of depth ultimately was a factor. Besides T.J. Galiardi in Game 6 and Raffi Torres in Game 2 of the conference quarterfinals, San Jose did not get goals from its bottom six forwards in the postseason.
San Jose scored 10 goals in the seven games. Coach Todd McLellan said they had looks and he couldn't fault the effort.
"It stings," McLellan said. "The group that we ended up with after the trade deadline could have [gone] one way or the other. We're in transition a little bit as an organization obviously with some of the moves we made, but I thought the way they banded together and the way they played for each other and with each other was exceptional. It was a real big positive sign for our organization – not only in the playoffs, but moving forward.
"We made one more mistake than they did, and we couldn't get one more puck past Quick."
Quick and Galiardi moved forward when they had a chat in the handshake line. Galiardi earlier accused Quick of embellishment for contact in the crease. Quick was actually given an unsportsmanlike penalty for embellishment in the third period.
"If you liked every player you played against while you're playing, there's something wrong," Quick said. "Obviously you're going to butt heads with guys from time to time. He competed hard, along with the rest of their team. At the end of the series, it's done and over with. He said, ‘Great series.' I said the same."
|Joe Thornton Hi-sticking against Mike Richards|
|Jeff Carter Hi-sticking against Joe Pavelski|
|Brent Burns Interference against Robyn Regehr|
|Bracken Kearns Tripping against Jake Muzzin|
|Jake Muzzin Interference against Justin Braun|
|Adam Burish Interference on goalkeeper against Jonathan Quick|
|Jonathan Quick Diving|