The L.A. Kings are in the history books.
On Monday, they became just the ninth team in NHL history to force a Game 7 after falling behind 0-3 in a series, beating San Jose 4-1 at Staples Center in front of a frenzied home crowd.
Though all 60 minutes were action-packed, this one was decided in a four-minute span in the third period. Justin Williams — who had a tremendous night, notching three points — scored what proved to be the game-winning goal at 11:56 when he poked home a loose puck under Alex Stalock’s pads. The goal went to video review, as the puck did appear to disappear out of sight, but the call on the ice stood — and that’s when things went south for the Sharks.
Frazzled, they watched as L.A. scored two more times in the next three minutes. Anze Kopitar notched both for the Kings, his second and third of the playoffs, and that set the stage for a wild final five minutes that included a fight (Logan Couture vs. Mike Richards), a near-fight (Joe Thornton vs. Jonathan Quick — yes, Jonathan Quick) and a grand total of 98 penalty minutes.
With the win, the Kings are now one win away from becoming just the fourth team ever to rally from a 0-3 deficit and win a Stanley Cup playoff series. The others: the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, the 1975 New York Islanders and the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers — a team that featured two current Kings, Richards and Jeff Carter.
As for the Sharks, they can take solace in the fact they’ve been here before. In the second round of the 2011 postseason, they blew a 3-0 series lead to Detroit before regrouping to win Game 7 in San Jose. Head coach Todd McLellan and his leadership group — captain Joe Thornton, most notably — will likely revisit that scenario in the hopes of avoiding what would be the biggest collapse in franchise history on Wednesday night at the SAP Center.
An injury to Trevor van Riemsdyk has paved the way for Michal Rozsival to make his season debut for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Rozsival might’ve been scheduled to play anyway, as the veteran defenseman is expected to replace Michal Kempny when the ‘Hawks host the Flames tonight at United Center.
“We want to get everyone in at some point,” said head coach Joel Quenneville, per the Chicago Tribune. “We don’t want to wait too long to get him into the season here. He can be useful, gives us some experience and can play minutes against top guys.”
At 38, Rozsival is one of the oldest players in the NHL. When the ‘Hawks re-signed him for another year, it came as a surprise to many. And by the time training camp rolled around, even he wasn’t exactly sure what his role would be this season.
But not surprisingly, after last season, GM Stan Bowman would rather err on the side of too much depth on the back end.
“It’s funny, because we had these [interviews] a year ago and they were always saying, ‘Are you worried about your defense? Do you have enough depth there?'” Bowman said, per the Sun-Times. “And now you’re saying we have too much depth. I think no matter what the story is, there’s a story line to it. But I’d rather have more guys who can play. Are we going to be healthy all year long? I hope so. But I don’t know if we will. … The thing with Michal, even last year, he just played too much consecutively. He still has a lot of hockey left.”
Related: Blackhawks’ issues go beyond the penalty kill
Calgary head coach Glen Gulutzan made a noteworthy decision over the weekend, opting to sit No. 1 netminder Brian Elliott against his former team, the St. Louis Blues, in favor of backup Chad Johnson.
The move didn’t pay off. Calgary lost 6-4, with Johnson allowing five goals on 39 shots.
So now, Elliott is back in goal was the Flames take on the ‘Hawks tonight at the United Center.
Acquired to fix the goaltending issues that plagued Calgary all of last season, Elliott has gone 0-3-0 with an .839 save percentage and 4.72 GAA.
Not good, obviously — especially for a 31-year-old pending UFA that’s looking to score a contract extension.
The Flames will hope that Elliott’s former goalie partner, Jake Allen, is something of a psychic. Over the weekend, Allen predicted that Elliott “will find his game very soon,” and tonight would be a good night for that to happen — Chicago’s offense has been firing over the last four games, finding the back of the net 16 times.
That said, the ‘Hawks are facing issues of their own.
They’ll give Corey Crawford the start tonight.
— Just one other game on the ledger, as the Flyers will take on the Habs in Montreal. Philly is going with Steve Mason, who allowed three goals on 30 shots in a win over Carolina on Saturday. The Canadiens are going with Carey Price, who allowed two goals on 21 shots in a win over Boston on Saturday.
His official status hasn’t changed, but Sidney Crosby wasn’t wearing a no-contact jersey at Penguins practice today, and that’s progress.
“Sid is day-to-day, as he has been. We’ll take tomorrow as it comes,” head coach Mike Sullivan said, per the club’s website. “It’s obviously a big step when he joins the group. To have him join the group in a full-contact practice like that is encouraging from our standpoint.”
Crosby has not played this season due to a concussion. There remains no timetable for his return, and the Pens aren’t going to rush their captain. But the way things have been progressing, don’t be surprised if he plays pretty soon. The Penguins host Florida tomorrow and the Islanders Thursday, then it’s off to Philadelphia for a game Saturday before embarking on a three-game trip to California.
“I got the OK to go out there and be in a full practice,” Crosby said. “It was just good to be back on the ice with the guys. It’s not easy watching. To be out there was nice and hopefully a good step.”
He hasn’t been perfect, but Peter Budaj has been good enough to give the Kings a two-game winning streak. Now the 34-year-old goalie is just hoping to keep it going, while Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff recover from their groin injuries.
“I just want to take it one game at a time,” Budaj said, per LA Kings Insider. “I know it’s a cliché and you guys probably hate it when players say that, but it is true. You just want to look up one game ahead, and that’s what you want to look at. We won today, we’re very happy, but we’ve just got to regroup, come back to work.”
Again, Budaj hasn’t been perfect. His save percentage is just .889, which isn’t very good at all.
But for a guy who’d started just one NHL game since the 2013-14 season, simply playing well enough to give his team a chance to win is about all that could be asked, and on that he’s delivered. He was a perfect three-for-three in Saturday’s shootout versus Vancouver, recovering nicely after allowing a late goal to send the game to overtime.
Next up for the Kings is a home game tomorrow against Columbus. After that comes a visit from Nashville, and then it’s off on a two-game trip to St. Louis and Chicago.
“There are a lot of tough games coming up for us, so we’ve got to just be ready and work hard and try to focus on the next game and don’t look too far ahead,” said Budaj, “because then you’re going to get caught in the moment and the present’s going to kind of slip away from you, so you’ve just got to focus on the present.”