(Photo: David Banks/USAToday Sports)
Facing elimination at 3-1 in the Western Conference Final series, the Blackhawks were hanging on by a thread in second overtime when NHL veteran Michal Handzus took a pass off his skate and backhanded it past goalie Jonathan Quick, allowing the Windy City to exhale (maybe *that* is where the nickname comes from) after 82 heart-pounding minutes of hockey.
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 29, 2014
The game-winning play was made possible by a dish from Brandon Saad and the moves of Patrick Kane, who tallied four helpers in the game. “Kane made a nice soft pass and saw a two on two. ‘Zus had some speed going through the middle there and making the 3 on 2,” Saad said. “I threw it to him and he handled it off his skate and he made a great move.”
Perhaps the Kings’ defense assumed Saad would pass to Kane for the game-winning shot. After all, Kane is the clutch guy. And, Handzus, 37, has been better known for moving around the roster and taking a scapegoat role in stride.
@JamesNeveau Patrick Kane was 6 years old when Michal Handzus was drafted.
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 29, 2014
“You still have to have a lot of confidence in yourself,” Handzus said. “I’m not real happy how [I have] played, but [I’ve] just got to be confident. It’s a lot of fun to be playing in the playoffs. It’s conference finals. You cannot just look at yourself all the time, be down [and] be disappointed. You just got to be positive. If you don’t want to be positive, then probably you won’t get out of the slump or anything. I stay positive. I’m [a] better player than [I’ve] showed. [I’ll] try to show it next game again.”
The first five minutes of the game gave Blackhawks fans a chance to breathe easily. Kings defenseman Drew Doughty was called for tripping 30 seconds after the puck drop and Brent Seabrook was able to slap a shot past Quick from the blue line (assisting: Toews, 7, and Kane, 6,) with 1:17 left on the Power Play. It was Seabrook’s third postseason goal. Johnny Oduya struck next, tapping in a shot from Kane (7), at 3:40 into the first. Andrew Shaw was also credited with an assist on the play.
But, much like the rest of the series (or, well, the season), the time for comfort was limited.
Jarret Stoll struck first for the Kings with a wristshot past a mess of players in front of Corey Crawford with 10:11 left in the first. It was Stoll’s second goal of the playoffs. Dwight King (4) was credited with the assist.
Hoping to pad the lead, Chicago scored again. Saad (5) took a pass from Kane (8), deked, shot, and then rebounded his own shot in for a 3-1 score. Shaw also got a helper (4).
But, painstakingly for the Hawks and their fans alike, the Kings would take the next three goals of the game.
The Kings would carry that momentum into the second period, when Brown would score his fourth goal of the playoffs with a wrist shot as he dove over Crawford, knotting the score at 3-3. Gaborik was credited with his seventh postseason assist.
The remaining nearly six minutes of the second went back and forth, with the Blackhawks trying to fight there way back to at least an even score, which they would earn early in the third.
Ben Smith (3) took the puck from the Hawks’ defensive zone, passed across the center of the ice to Saad (7), then hustled to the front of the net, where he was able to push the puck in and tie the score once again at 1:17 into the period. Oduya got his fifth playoff assist on the play.
From there through regulation and a first overtime, the Blackhawks tried desperately to score and had plenty of quality opportunities, all stopped by Quick. Crawford, too, put on a Cirque du Soleil act of his own, to hold back the Kings’ powerful effort.
No penalties were called in either overtime, and a whistle wasn’t blown for nearly half of the first OT. In the first 20 minutes post-regulation, Quick made 10 saves and Crawford made eight. That doesn’t account for the shots blocked by players on either team.
There was no time to blink or breathe as a spectator, but both teams excelled at pulling off line changes.
“I’ve seen a lot of games, been involved in a lot of games,” Quenneville said. “That might have been the greatest overtime I’ve seen.”
Part of that credit, at least for the Blackhawks, goes to the other heroes of the game, Handzus aside. Saad has five goals and eight assists in the playoffs–one goal and two assists came Wednesday. He, Kane, and Shaw had nine points together. The trio pelted one-third (15/45) of the Hawks’ shots; and more than 62 percent of the shot attempts occurred while they were on the ice.
“It was a fun game playing with them,” Kane said. “They’re extremely hard workers. Personally, I thought [Saad] was the best player on the ice tonight. He was bringing so much speed and puck protection. He was awesome.”
In the game, the Kings blocked 24 shots and the Hawks blocked 18, they also led in hits 51-40, and faceoff wins 40-34. The Blackhawks successfully killed three penalties, an issue that troubled them greatly the previous two games. Shots barely favored Chicago 45-44.
Crawford made 40/44 saves and Quick stopped 40/45.
Crawford has 12 career playoff overtime wins with a 1.68 goals against average and a.946 save percentage.
The Blackhawks’ 5-4 win may have provided relief, saving them from elimination and bumping them up from a 3-1 series deficit to 3-2, but it is very little consolation for fans as the teams head back to Los Angeles.
“We know what we’re capable of doing,” Oduya said. “The last couple of games we haven’t played up to our standards. Today was a step in the right direction and this is what it’s going to look like. We’re going to have to play like this every night to win. The next one will be the toughest game of the year.”
The rest of the best-of-seven series between the Western Conference powerhouses is tentatively scheduled as follows:
Game 6 Fri, May 30 8:00 p.m. CT Staples Center NBCSN
Game 7 Sun, June 1 7:00 p.m. CT United Center NBCSN (if necessary)
The winner of the series will go on to play the New York Rangers, who took Game 6 with a 1-0 victory to finish off the series 4-2.
For me, and for other Blackhawks fans, I pray to Lord Stanley and our new god, ‘Zus, for a Chicago victory in the City of Angels… Because it’s the Cup.