CHICAGO (AP) — Alec Martinez scored at 5:47 of overtime, and the Los Angeles Kings beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals Sunday night.
Martinez’s shot went off Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy and over goalie Corey Crawford, stunning the sellout crowd at the United Center and leading to a wild on-ice celebration for Los Angeles. Leddy was disconsolate as the Kings gathered in a big huddle along the boards.
Los Angeles improved to 7-0 in elimination games with its third Game 7 win on the road this postseason. It will host the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday night.
“We never say die … someone described us as a bunch of cockroaches that don’t go away,” Martinez said.
Justin Williams and Tyler Toffoli each had a goal and an assist for the Kings, who once held a 3-1 lead in the series, only to have the defending champion Blackhawks come back to force Game 7. Jeff Carter scored his ninth playoff goal in the first, and Marian Gaborik had the tying goal midway through the third period.
Patrick Sharp scored two goals for the Blackhawks, who blew a 2-0 lead. Brandon Saad had a goal and an assist, and Patrick Kane had two more assists.
Chicago’s loss means Detroit remains the last NHL team to win consecutive titles in 1997 and 1998.
The Kings also got 37 saves from Jonathan Quick in another resilient performance for Darryl Sutter’s team. Los Angeles trailed San Jose 3-0 in its first-round series and was down 3-2 to top-seeded Anaheim in the second round before rallying each time.
Gaborik, Williams and Mike Richards each improved to 7-0 in Game 7s. Sutter moved to 7-3 in such games, breaking a tie with Blackhawks adviser Scotty Bowman and Pat Burns for the NHL record for most coaching wins in Game 7s.
Sharp sent a big power-play drive past Quick to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 lead at 18:25 of the second. Sharp, who has been mostly quiet this postseason, celebrated the tiebreaking goal with a big fist pump and scream as his teammates rushed in to congratulate him.
The Blackhawks held onto that slim lead all the way to 7:17 of the third, when Gaborik swept in a rebound on the break for his NHL-best 12th playoff goal, sparking a celebration on the Kings’ bench and setting the stage for a frantic finish to regulation.
Quick turned away prime opportunities for Sharp and Bryan Bickell before he made a terrific save on Andrew Shaw in the final seconds. Dustin Brown had a great rush to the net for Los Angeles that he nearly completed for a breathtaking score.
Jonathan Toews also scored for the Blackhawks, and Crawford finished with 27 saves.
The finale of the epic series between the last two Stanley Cup winners attracted a frenzied crowd of 22,315 that included NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley and Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall. And they were treated to another heart-stopping classic full of big shots and great saves by each side.
Just like in Game 5, a 5-4 double-overtime victory for Chicago, the Blackhawks got off to a fast start, only to have the Kings come storming back. Kane picked up an assist on each of the first two goals, finding Saad with a slick pass from behind the net, and then getting to the right place at the right time for a lucky power-play carom that went right to Toews for an easy tap-in at 8:36 of the first.
The comeback Kings, who seem to play their best the closer they get to the brink of elimination, then went to work. Carter batted a rebound out of the air and past Crawford at 16:31, and Williams scored his seventh of the playoff 51 seconds later, tying it at 2.
It was Williams’ seventh career goal in a Game 7, tying Glenn Anderson for the NHL record. Williams added an assist on Martinez’s winning score, breaking Doug Gilmour’s record for most points in such games with 14.
Add in Sharp’s first score at 18:25 of the first, and the five goals set an NHL record for the highest total in the opening period of a Game 7, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Blackhawks then held the Kings without a shot on goal for the first part of the second, but Los Angeles took advantage of its own lucky bounce to tie it at 3 with 9:29 left in the period.
Matt Greene’s long shot went off the right skate of Blackhawks forward Michal Handzus and right to an open Toffoli on the right side of the net. The rookie poked it in for his 7th of the playoffs.
Chicago wasted a prime scoring chance when it was unable to generate much action when it 46 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play later in the second, and Quick made a great stop on a streaking Shaw on a 2-on-1 with 2:45 left in the period.
NOTES: It was the seventh Game 7 of this year’s NHL playoffs, matching the single-postseason record set in 1994 and equaled in 2011. … Kings D Robyn Regehr missed his 13th straight game with a knee injury. … Blackhawks F Kris Versteeg returned to the lineup after he struggled in Game 5 and was scratched for Chicago’s 4-3 victory in Los Angeles on Friday night.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap