As the puck rolled up from behind the Blackhawks net, Slava Voynov pinched down to keep pressure in the Blackhawks zone, and Marian Gaborik rotated back to cover for him. The puck squeaked by the pile, and where a D-man would normally back-off, Gaborik didn’t. Patrick Sharp beat him to the puck and caught him on a quick play, and suddenly Kris Versteeg and Brent Seabrook found themselves on a 2-on-1 carrying Chelsea’s Dagger with a chance to more-or-less finish the Kings for the night.
Chicago was already up 2-0, and with a little over seven minutes left in the second period, found themselves with just under a 90% win expectancy with a chance to jack that up even higher.
Willie Mitchell slid to break up the 2-on-1 cross-ice pass, but Versteeg read the play and sauced it over to Seabrook, who stared at nothing but the open net.
But, he didn’t score.
Jonathan Quick’s last name is fitting when it comes to his post-to-post game, and few goalies in the league are as flexible. He fired his left leg low across the goal-line and stopped the Seabrook shot to keep the game at 2-0.
Knowing how hockey teams groupthink, I tweeted that someone on the Kings bench almost certainly claimed that as a turning point for the team. When you’re behind, you’re looking for any chance for a fresh start, whether that be “We’re outplaying them since that physical shift, next line, keep up that energy” or “That’s a huge penalty kill for us, now let’s get going,” or, in this case, “That’s the save we needed, now let’s go get one.”
In a nutshell: things haven’t gone well up until this point, there’s the break we needed, let’s hit reset and start again here.
The Kings, as you know, went on to score six times (once into an empty net), and the Blackhawks didn’t score again.
“Turning points” can be very real things. If Chicago scores on that 2-on-1 it changes how the two teams play the game strategically, it changes mindsets, and it changes how the rest of the game plays out.
A three goal lead might change the way Chicago forechecks, or how often they decide to pinch on close pucks. The more teams lead, the more they err on the side of defensive thought.
If the Kings go down three, that might put them over the frustration threshold, where focus changes from playing the game to trying to destroy people. Maybe that leads to more penalties for them, and maybe it leads to more running out of position. Maybe it leads to a Chicago blowout.
The lazy answer is that the save led to some kind of momentum, but that’s not really it at all. It led to a more manageable game state, which afforded the Kings the opportunity to mount a comeback.
Where “momentum” does become real, is when the Kings go into the intermission down 2-1 instead of 3-0. The room will be energized, and in the place of players silently taping sticks thinking thoughts like “I’m gonna kill that f***ing Toews kid,” there might be actual hockey ideas exchanged between linemates.
Momentum, in this case, means a team staying serious about winning, and coming out to play the third with a renewed commitment to the game plan. They're going in the right direction as a group after being given the opportunity to stay focused on the business of beating Chicago in Chicago. It would’ve been far too easy to flip the switch to post-whistle face-washes and cheapshots.
“Momentum” is often misused. It isn’t there from game-to-game, fights rarely provide it, and a good offensive shift isn’t necessarily indicative of one team having it. But when you’ve been given a gift like the one Jonathan Quick gave the Kings last night, its effect on the game state can provide a team with a true “turning point.”