The morning of Game 7 in San Jose, Darryl Sutter was one number shy of reciting a telephone number.
“Six, seven, four, three, zero, one,” he said when asked about what differentiated the Kings’ surge from earlier parts in the series. He was referring to goals against, and it’s a topic that was raised again as the Kings have allowed nine goals against in the last seven-plus periods of hockey.
Similar to his evolving performance in last year’s Western Conference Final, Patrick Kane has improved as the series has drawn out, and with seven points in the last two games, he’s coming into Game 7 red hot.
“I’m not going to be here and toot his horn so much. He’s an enemy right now,” Justin Williams said. “He’s obviously had a huge impact on the last two games and how they ended. Let’s hope that’s not the case tomorrow. There’s no secret on how you play him. You try and limit his space. That’s what you do.”
But Kane is only one of a handful of excellent offensive performers on both teams. There’s also Jeff Carter, and Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik on the Kings, and Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad on the Blackhawks amongst a collection of other driven and skilled individuals who have led their team to the brink of what has developed into a thrilling playoff series that will be remembered long past this spring.
Still, Kane deserves an extra bit of attention for his impact in the later stages of this series.
“He’s a great player. We all know that, and he plays well in great games,” Willie Mitchell said. “So, as a group, we’ve got to collectively do a heck of a job against him. We did that in Games 1 through 4, and the last couple games I think as a group we gave him some life. We need to do the same things we did in the first four games and not in the last two…check hard to deny him the puck, and then when he has the puck, give him the least amount of time as possible because he’s a very creative player and can create things not only for himself, but for other players out there.”
There exists the confidence within the players that they’ll be able to soften the sharp spike in Kane’s production that has aided Chicago’s resurgence in the series.
“Well, we’ve done it four games out of six so far, so yeah, absolutely.,” Mitchell said. “As a team, that’s what you look for – big games, defining moments and defining games to get yourself to play for the ultimate prize, and that’s what we’re looking to do as a group. I think our group over the course I’ve been here, these four years, we’ve been able to…rise to the challenge at the right times. I’m pretty confident about that and am really looking forward to the challenge tomorrow.”
Though Jonathan Quick’s performance through 20 playoff games has not ranked amongst his signature playoff efforts – his postseason even strength save percentage is at .911, down from .941 in 2013 and .946 in 2012 – it has not altered one speck of the way that he’s viewed by his teammates.
“He’s the furthest thing from any problem that we’re ever going to have or we ever will have right now, that’s for sure,” said Williams, who liked the mild head butting and verbal sparring the Kings’ netminder engaged in with Corey Crawford at the end of the second period last night.
“I love spunk and fire within a goalie,” Williams said. “You’ve got a guy back there who’s by himself most of the game. I love seeing that from a goalie. I love seeing it from anybody.”