So it has come down to this: The Montreal Canadiens have to win three in a row and the Chicago Blackhawks have to do likewise.
Otherwise it will be a Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers Stanley Cup final.
West Coast vs. East Coast...a potential TV ratings bonanza.
In a year when the Stanley Cup playoffs have been wildly unpredictable - the Kings have suffered through two three-game losing streaks for heaven sakes - it is a little presumptuous to suggest the final is set in stone. Anything can happen. Yet if you follow the script, the Habs and Hawks will stage last-minute comebacks and...
Well, that probably won't happen.
With Montreal goalie Carey Price injured and the Blackhawks seemingly out of gas, it is not a giant leap to think it will be the Kings and Rangers in the final.
The Kings looked vulnerable early in the playoffs, but have now won three straight, including a 5-2 win at home in Game 4
, and seem to be the team to beat.
Here is how it all went down in L.A. on Monday night:
Chicago's leading scorer Marian Hossa did his best to avoid hitting Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick early in the first period, but bumped him nevertheless and was penalized for interference. The Hawks vehemently argued the call with referee Dan O'Halloran, but to no avail.
With Hossa in the penalty box, red-hot defenceman Jake Muzzin scored a power play goal
to give the home side an early lead. Muzzin, 25 and in his second full season in the NHL, had five goals in 76 regular season games and now has five in 18 playoff games.
Kings left-winger Marian Gaborik became the first player to hit double digits in goals when he scored his 10th
2:13 later to make it 2-0. It was his first point in six games.
Anze Kopitar, who leads the playoffs in scoring, but had just one assist in the series started the play by pickpocketing Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith of the puck. He passed to Gaborik in front and the former Wild, Ranger and Blue Jacket tipped it past Chicago's Corey Crawford.
Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown is continually one of the hardest workers, but his efforts don't always result in goals. He entered the game leading the playoffs in hits with 90, but had not scored a goal in 10 games. That changed at 15:56 of the first period when he was in front of the net - the dirty area of the ice, blocking Crawford's vision - and a rebound dropped right on his stick allowing him to tap it home to make it 3-0
Doughty? King? Who cares?
The Kings took a 4-0 lead when star defender Drew Doughty launched a soft floater
toward the Chicago net from the point. The puck appeared to hit teammate Dwight King stick, but Doughty was awarded the goal; his third of the post-season.
They have a pulse
Actor Will Ferrell attended the game and was wearing a Jake Muzzin jersey. Muzzin was interviewed after the second period and asked what was more important, his goal or the fact Ferrell was paying him a tribute.
"It's probably the goal, but it's close," Muzzin said.
He then thanked Ferrell for wearing his jersey.
With his team trying to stop the bleeding after two straight losses, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville opened the game with captain Jonathan Toews playing on a line with struggling Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell. It resulted in - ba-dum-bump - nothing.
They played the game as a unit, but did not accomplish much. Kane especially looked tired. Bickell had a goal and the other two drew assists, but it was not an impressive outing for the trio.
After a mad scramble in front of the Kings net with the top line pressing hard, Bickell snapped a four-game goalless, pointless streak with his seventh of the playoffs
. Bickell continues to cultivate a reputation for being at his best when it matters most in the season.
It didn't matter, though.
Too little; too late.
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