As a teenager, Cal Petersen would go to United Center and catch Chicago Blackhawks games with his friends. From the stands, he saw then-rising stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane skate the other teams out of the building.
“I would go here all throughout high school when I was playing minor hockey here,” Petersen said.
Petersen got a much closer look at them Friday.
Both skated in on him under those arena lights, with the game on the line in a shootout. As far as first NHL starts go, the intensity ranked as high as the Blackhawks’ banners. But Petersen took the moment and shined with stops on Toews and Kane to set up Anze Kopitar’s game-winning strike for a 2-1 win.
“Very cool,” Petersen said. “It kind of comes full circle that way, but at least the building was relatively familiar from all the times I came and watched the games. Great fans. Great atmosphere.”
Petersen truly earned his first win with 34 saves in regulation and overtime. He was beaten only on a defensive breakdown, and his saves on Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz kept it tied in the third period. At one point, Petersen stopped a shot with his stick handle.
“He got us two points, really,” defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “I’m happy for him, his first win. He played outstanding.”
Petersen was balm to another day of voodoo-doll-like injury news for the Kings, who couldn’t make it through the morning skate without losing another player because Trevor Lewis suffered a fractured foot when he struck by a shot and is week to week.
An inordinate amount of goalie injuries brought Petersen here, and even that took another scary turn Friday. But Petersen, 24, has shown maturity, and he was able to show it in front of his parents, Eric and Mary, and his sister, Annie. Having grown up in Waterloo, Iowa, Petersen played under-18 hockey for the Chicago Young Americans, based in Wheaton, Ill.
And it so happened that Petersen’s last appearance in this arena was a 6-1 loss for his Notre Dame team to Denver in last year’s Frozen Four. All of that melted into a celebration with teammates following Kopitar’s backhand past Corey Crawford. Kopitar saved the puck for Petersen.
“Best feeling in the world,” Petersen said. “I’m happiest for the boys. They really battled hard for me. Just for it to tie in like that, it’s obviously very special. It’s probably the most fun hockey game of my life.”
Goalie drama unfolded in the morning when Peter Budaj fell ill. That forced the recall of Cole Kehler, the No. 5 goalie in the organization’s depth chart who left the Ontario Reign and drove from Grand Rapids, Mich. But Budaj backed up Petersen and stayed in the dressing room during the game.
It could have been billed as Dead Dynasties Walking. Both teams fired their coaches. Both went into the game with the two worst goal differentials in the NHL, having fallen off a cliff from their reign of five Stanley Cups from 2010 to 2015.
“For a while there, it was like ourselves and L.A. were the teams to beat in the West,” Kane said at the morning skate.
Tyler Toffoli, a player from the 2014 run, grabbed a turnover at center ice when Erik Gustafsson fell and skated down the middle to beat Crawford. Chicago equaled it on Brandon Saad’s bang-in shot when Toews fed him from behind the goal line at 2:39 of the third period.
Petersen kept his hand on the rudder from there while the Kings got a boost from the debut of Carl Hagelin, who was noticeably active on a line with Adrian Kempe and Matt Luff.
Coach Willie Desjardins threw in some wrinkles with late shifts to Luff and an appearance by Nate Thompson in overtime. Of course the player that really mattered was Petersen.
“It’s the kind of night you dream of,” Desjardins said. “If you think about [it], if you’re a young guy coming in, I don’t think you can dream anything this good.”
When: 5 p.m. PST, Saturday
On the air: TV: FSW; Radio: iHeartRadio (LA Kings Audio Network)