If you went to sleep after the Blackhawks seized a seemingly insurmountable 2-0 lead Wednesday night, you were not alone.
So did they.
In a revolting reversal for almost all of the 22,019 fans crammed into the United Center, the Los Angeles Kings managed to reroute traffic with a dramatic U-turn in this Western Conference Final by erupting for six goals in the last 22 minutes for a 6-2 romp.
After Nick Leddy and Ben Smith had completed highlight-type scoring plays for the defending Stanley Cup champions, defeat did not seem an option. Even when Jonathan Quick, the visitors’ justifiably famous goalkeeper, stuffed Brent Seabrook on a 2-on-1 that could have made it 3-0, the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
The Blackhawks were playing better than they had in Sunday’s opener that they won after a potentially dangerous respite. The Kings were not playing nearly as well as they had in Game 1, during which they were supposed to be fatigued.
Alas, if we didn’t know it before, we know it now: the Kings do not panic well. They went through two previous series, encountered a half-dozen games that, if lost, would have excused them from the playoffs, and they lost none of them. So, they’re supposed to develop jitters now, down by a couple on a rink where the Blackhawks had yet to fall this postseason?
“I don’t know if we’ve seen a game like that all year,” noted head coach Joel Quenneville. He can say that again, and probably will sometime before the Blackhawks face the Kings Saturday night at the Staples Center. When things go bad, coaches always like to say, "Well, the other team is in the league for a reason, too. The other team has good players, too."
But the momentum shift Wednesday night was truly startling. Quick’s stop on Seabrook earned the popular vote as the so-called “Aha moment.” However, head coach Darryl Sutter properly noted other possibilities. The Kings killed a 5-on-3 situation early, which helped their cause. And they didn’t close up shop when Smith accepted Johnny Oduya’s brilliant stretch pass, then drilled the puck past Quick at 1:40 of the second period.
Yielding to the apparently inevitable is not in Sutter’s DNA, and his players are of a similar ilk. Besides, Wayne Gretzky was in the building. He put the sport and the franchise in a dress shirt throughout Southern California, although on this evening, he raved about the revival of the Blackhawks. Like a kid, No. 99 rushed to his seat, along with his guests, to witness Jim Cornelison and the Star-Spangled Banner.
Question: how many anthems, United States and Canadian, do you imagine Gretzky has heard during his unparalleled career? Still, he was amped. At puck drop, "The Great One" played it straight, bonding with Blackhawks Hall of Fame ambassadors Bobby Hull, Tony Esposito and Denis Savard.
If you’re scoring at home, Justin Williams cued the beginning of the end for the Blackhawks from a jam several minutes after Sutter used his timeout. Early in the third, on a power play, Drew Doughty shot through what looked like a receiving line at a wedding. It was 2-2, on Jeff Carter's tip, his first of three third-period goals. Hat trick for him, dunce cap for the Blackhawks. Nobody was blaming Corey Crawford, because there was plenty of that for everyone.
Plenty to ponder on the flight to Los Angeles.