LOS ANGELES -- It has been so easy to buy into the mythology of the Los Angeles Kings: big, strong, dedicated, relentless.
From 2012's menacing march to their first Stanley Cup to the Western Conference finals last year to this spring when they erased a 3-0 series deficit in the first round and then won two straight Game 7s on the road to advance to a third straight conference final.
You could roll the term juggernaut around in your mouth and it seemed to fit these Kings like a glove.
Well, it used to fit.
This Western Conference finals series fit the Kings' mythology like a finely tailored glove just a few days ago, but it has now gotten away from them.
A series they led 3-1 with three straight wins over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks is now tied at 3 after the Kings bungled their way to a 4-3 loss Friday night in Los Angeles.
In spite of scoring first, in spite of taking a 3-2 lead in the third period, the relentless, normally stone cold killer Kings could not close the deal -- again.
"Third period we come out and grab the lead back from them, then we make a couple of mistakes and they score two goals that's just, we've got to clean up the mistakes that's what's killed us the last two games," offered Kings captain Dustin Brown.
The chance for greatness, the opportunity to build on the mythology that has grown up around this Kings team remains. All they need to do is win Game 7 Sunday in Chicago.
"We've got another game to play, Game 7," noted Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty, who was a beast with a goal and an assist in a span of 1:06 in the third period to give the Kings a brief 3-2 lead.
They know they've had two opportunities to close out the Blackhawks.
"We're not going to blow a third one," Doughty insisted.
Still, the past two games have presented some troublesome signs for the Kings.
For the second game in a row, the Kings could not hold a third-period lead.
And for a second game in a row, they allowed Patrick Kane to take over the contest.
As good as Doughty was -- and he was terrific -- Kane was magical, again.
He followed up a four-assist performance in Game 5 with a two-goal, one-assist effort Friday, including setting up the tying goal by Duncan Keith just past the mid-point of the third period and then holding the puck and reversing field before snapping home the winner through a crowd with 3:45 left in the game.
"Same as Drew, he's one of the top players in the world too," said Kings defenseman Alec Martinez of Kane. "I think we've got to do a better job of taking away his time and space. A guy like that's going to make plays and we've just got to be quick to contact on him and try and take away his time and space so he can't make those plays."
Without any answers for Kane, the Kings now prepare for a trip back to Chicago that they'd been talking about avoiding for the past two days.
"It's amazing how he turns it on in these big games," said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews of his longtime pal Kane.
"I think a lot of guys, maybe, are making sure they don't make mistakes with the puck and getting rid of the puck in certain areas, but he's as calm as ever with it, even if it's late in the period and the ice is a little rough. He just keeps that puck flat and has his head up.
"He makes some amazing plays. So for him to come up with those two plays, on the tying goal and the winning goal, not much you can say. It's pretty amazing."
Keith insisted that the Hawks are no longer surprised by what the team's top players like Kane and Toews produce on a nightly basis at the most critical times.
"Us players in here, we get the privilege of playing with a guy like that (Kane) every day and seeing the things he can do," Keith said. "Not everybody's going to dominate a game every single game, there's a lot of hockey, a lot of good teams and a lot of good players. But you know that when it comes down to crunch time, him and Johnny, I don't really know if there's two other guys I'd want to have on my team.
"We're excited. Nothing's done yet. We understand that. We've given ourselves the opportunity to play in that Game 7, to have a chance to move on, and I think that's what we're excited about."
To be sure, the Kings will have to find a way to contain Kane and his linemates Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw, who each had assists in Game 6, but it wasn't just Kane's play that should have the Kings worried.
This was a particularly sloppy contest and, while neither team was sharp for the first half of the game, the Kings were decidedly un-King-like defensively for long stretches of a game in which they managed just three shots in the third period.
There were botched breakouts and ill-planned passes.
At one point in the second period after the Blackhawks had taken a 2-1 lead, the Kings allowed a rare 2-on-0 during a bad line change. Only an extraordinary blocker save on Patrick Sharp and a convenient crossbar allowed the Kings to escape that brain cramp unscathed.
Moments later they allowed a 3-on-2.
"I'm a broken record. We've got to be sharper in our own end and we can't have those breakdowns and allow them those opportunities because they're a good hockey club and they're going to capitalize on them," Martinez said.
One of the themes of this playoff season and indeed earlier in this series was the notion that the Kings were experienced enough, patient enough to wait until an opponent revealed a crack in the veneer and then the Kings would exploit it until the opponent was finished.
Yet instead of taking the final step to put away the Chicago Blackhawks, the Kings are the ones who's flaws are being taken advantage of.
"Hey, it's been a great series," Los Angeles head coach Darryl Sutter said. "Now it comes down to one game. That's what it's been."
What did Sutter tell his players after the game?
"Fly at 11," the coach said.
Sounds about right.
Sure, this is the Kings' third straight Game 7. And there is something to be said for the experience of winning both those games in San Jose and Anaheim respectively.
"It's a testament to the character and the group that we have on the team, but for whatever reason we've had success," Martinez explained.
"But that won't mean much if we don't win the next game. So we've just got to go in there and play a simple, hard, tough road hockey game."
And there's the rub.
Win Game 7 and the myth will continue to be reality for the Kings. Play like they did the past two games and the reality will be a lot more humbling.