In the seven-game Western Conference finals, the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks played one of the best playoff series the NHL has seen in a long time.
Ironically, such a great back-and-forth series was ultimately decided by a fluke goal, and the Kings, who wound up winning 5-4 in overtime Sunday, are headed to their second Stanley Cup finals in three seasons as a result.
Kings defenseman Alec Martinez wound up for what looked like it would be a standard slap shot from just inside the blueline. But Martinez' shot got air, bounced off the shoulder of Chicago defenseman Nick Leddy and deflected into the net for the series winner.
"I didn't really even know it went until I saw Stoly (center Jarrett Stoll) going bananas in there," Martinez said. "He was getting pretty excited so that's when I started celebrating, too.
"I didn't see it go in, I know it went off some bodies. I just tried to get it through and fortunately it went in."
Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford was helpless to stop the puck and Los Angeles -- which appeared shocked for the first couple seconds afterward.
"We said if we won the game, it was going to be a great series," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "We would have preferred not to get to Game 7, but when you play the defending champions, there's a good chance there's going to be a Game 7. Game 7 is about winning it all and doing whatever it takes."
The Kings now advance to their second Stanley Cup finals in three seasons and will face the New York Rangers.
"We're up against it again," Sutter said.
Kings right winger Justin Williams, who scored one of his team's goals in the game, agreed.
"Hey, listen, this is three-quarters of the way, this isn't the whole way," Williams said. "We have a big, big challenge ahead of us.
"We're proud of the way we've performed so far, but we won't be satisfied and we'll have a lump in our throat if we don't follow through with our ultimate goal."
Los Angeles, which opened a 3-1 lead in the series, finally stopped Chicago's two-game winning streak that tied the series.
"We were one shot away from trying and doing it again," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
The loss prevented Quenneville from earning his 100th career playoff win as an NHL coach.
"I thought both teams left it out there and unfortunately somebody had to lose," Quenneville said. "It's a tough ending.
The Kings tied the game at 4 at 12:43 of the third period when Los Angeles right winger Marian Gaborik sank a backhander past Crawford. It was Gaborik's team-high 12th goal of the playoffs.
The goal closed the scoring of an up-and-down regulation 60 minutes that saw the Blackhawks jump out to a 2-0 lead, then let the Kings equalize before going back up 3-2 just 12 seconds later. The Kings then battled to back to a 3-3 tie before the Blackhawks went up 4-3 heading into the third.
The game epitomized the up-and-down series between the past two Stanley Cup champions.
After a shaky first period where he allowed three goals on just seven shots, Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick stopped 37 of Chicago's 41 shots in the victory.
Crawford stopped 27 of the Kings 32 shots in the loss.
The Blackhawks' Brandon Saad opened the scoring just 5:06 into the game when center Andrew Shaw and right winger Patrick Kane got bottled up around Quick and found the left winger for a quick outlet. Saad stuffed the puck past Quick to score his sixth goal of the playoffs.
Just over six minutes later, Chicago made it 2-0 when defenseman Brent Seabrook put a pass through the crease that Kane reached behind his body to collect before backhanding it to team captain and center Jonathan Toews. Toews then sank his ninth goal of the playoffs at 11:24.
Los Angeles scored at 16:31 of the first period when center Jeff Carter tallied his ninth goal of the playoffs, swatting a rebound out of the air past Crawford to make it 2-1.
The play was reviewed to make sure Carter's stick wasn't above the crossbar, but it was ruled a good goal.