CHICAGO -- Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty understood the opportunity his team squandered Wednesday at United Center in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final.
The Chicago Blackhawks rallied for the first time in this series, turning a one-goal deficit at the start of the third period into a stunning 5-4 victory in double overtime.
Ben Smith scored the tying goal 77 seconds into the third period, and Michal Handzus won it in overtime with a beautiful backhander. Handzus, who had one postseason goal entering the game, played a mere nine shifts between the end of the second period and his game-winner.
"It was a crappy loss," said Doughty. "[I'm] not happy about that; would have liked to have closed it out tonight. But we're going back home, where we're comfortable."
Game 6 is Friday at Staples Center (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). Los Angeles leads the series 3-2 and will have the chance to eliminate the defending champions in front of their own fans.
The Kings still like their odds as they won Games 3 and 4 in their building. But they also know they blew a huge opportunity to put the Blackhawks out of their misery, book a spot in the Stanley Cup Final and earn some valuable extra days off before the Cup Final starts next Wednesday.
The Kings could not survive the last desperate push of a proud team, one that refused to let its season die before a raucous home crowd at United Center
"It's not easy. It's never going to be easy, especially against the defending champions and a team that's won and knows how to win," said center Jarret Stoll, who scored the Kings' first goal Wednesday. "No one said it would be easy."
The Kings have reveled in doing what is not easy. In the Western Conference First Round, they lost the first three games against the favored San Jose Sharks, then won four straight. In the next round, they dropped three straight games after winning the first two against the Anaheim Ducks. Los Angeles responded with a pair of victories, including a shellacking of the Western Conference regular-season champs on the road in Game 7.
They were comfortable in the situation they faced Wednesday and were able to dig themselves out of a pair of early deficits.
"The start we had was awful," Doughty said. "Just losing in overtime; [it] stings a lot, knowing we could have had it so many times. We had the lead going into the third; you can't ask for much more than that. To give up a goal so early in the third was kind of like a dagger."
The Kings fell behind 2-0 and 3-1 in the first period, only to take a 4-3 lead into the dressing room after 40 minutes. Smith scored a desperation goal at the start of the third period, and the fight was on as the game quickly evolved into a next-goal-wins affair and stayed that way for the next 40 minutes of game action.
In the end, it was Handzus who delivered the dagger and extended the series for the champions, but not before Los Angeles had a bushel of opportunities to score the winner.
"It's a tough building," Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said. "[Darn] near got it."
Close, though, wasn't going to be enough on this night -- not with the Blackhawks fighting for the right to put their backs against the wall again in two days.
"We came back, showed some character; just couldn't find a way to get the winner," Stoll said. "You've got to play the game, play it the right way. We're going home, we're going to have a big win in front of our home fans, that's our goal, and they're going to be fired up and we're going to be fired up as well and play a good home game.
"We'll move on from this one, look at some tape and [see] how we need to get better and push for the win."