One of the biggest debates surrounding whether a player is "clutch" is the question of whether it is a repeatable skill. It's a sound argument and one that has a lot of merit. There's no player out there that can flip the clutch switch and just automatically get the goal his team needs when they need it, but some can do it often enough that maybe there's a little something to the idea of "clutch."
Patrick Kane is one of those players to which this title will inevitably be attached to for a long, long time. And while so many players become known as clutch for a handful of performances, Kane seems to continually find himself delivering in these big-game situations. And it's not just a handful of times, either. It's starting to get freakish.
Once again, the 25-year-old forward with lightning-quick hands and offensive creativity that would make the most gifted painters jealous, came through in the, well, clutch. With the Blackhawks facing elimination for the second straight game, Kane scored twice, including the game-winning goal, as Chicago forced a Game 7 with a 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final. He also assisted on Duncan Keith's game-tying marker preceding his go-ahead goal in the final period.
Yes, the word clutch is overused in sports and perhaps more accurately over-distributed to the undeserving, but there are at least a few select athletes where it seems to fit.
The more I've thought about the clutch title, however, the less I felt it was necessary. Calling a player clutch is definitely a compliment. It says you can play extremely well in these very important situations.
There's perhaps a more accurate term to describe these select athletes, though. The word is simply "good."
Players like Kane wouldn't be in these situations to be declared clutch if their roles on the teams didn't dictate they be on the ice in the proper circumstances and didn't have the skill set to execute at a relatively high rate of success.
Kane is not so much clutch as he is a great player, who has a talent that puts him in a position to make these kinds of plays. For some players, they have the talent but don't have the good fortune of pucks going in for them. Kane admits that he tries to step up his game but that he doesn't necessarily feel the responsibility to take over games.
"I don't know, you try to take it upon yourself to try and step up in big situations," he said after Game 6 when asked why he has so much success late in games. "But we have a lot of guys that do that. I think with our team and the amount of great players that are on it, it seems like everyone has their time to step up and have the spotlight and be in that moment. There's been numerous guys that have done it. When it's your turn, it's always fun to contribute."
The American superstar is being a tad humble. It's pretty clear if the team had the choice, and probably Kane himself had the choice, the puck would be on his stick in all late-game situations. He is the most dangerous player on the team and possibly one of the most dangerous in the league when the puck is on his stick.
Again, that's not clutch, that's just talent and that probably should be celebrated more than situational scoring.
Over the last two games -- with Chicago facing elimination in both of them -- Kane posted seven total points. He had four assists over a staggering 28 minutes of ice time in the thrilling double-overtime victory over the Kings in Game 5, including on Michal Handzus' winning goal.
Kane now has six career game-winning goals in the playoffs. Some of them have come in the most spectacular fashion, like his Stanley Cup-winning goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, his series-clinching OT winner in last year's Western Conference Final and his OT series-ender against the Wild earlier this month ... or in Game 6 when his seeing-eye wrister sneaked past a screened Jonathan Quick.
But then you expand your examination of Kane, you see that it's not just about series-winning goals and OT thrillers. Kane's play has picked up as series progress throughout his career. He's a fair bit better at the end of the series as opposed to the first three games. That may be more coincidence than anything else, but when one of the team's most talented players can elevate his game where so much is on the line, it's noticeable.
It happens just a little too frequently to be qualified as luck or good fortune.
How clutch has been defined might be part of the problem. It should never be just about one goal here or there, no matter how big they might be. So-called clutch players tend not to get that reputation without scoring that big goal or making that big glove save at the right time.
Early on in the series, it seems that Kane was being completely shut down by the Kings. He sure didn't look clutch then, but a quick shuffle of the lineup by Joel Quenneville put Kane with young forwards Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad and all of the sudden, the Blackhawks had a super line.
Players like Kane can fit in with just about anyone because they tend to make everyone they're playing with better. Look at Saad's play over the last few games and you see a young guy energized offensively and being put in a position to succeed. That wouldn't be called clutch by most people, but it's arguably more important in the bigger picture than a goal here or there, even the game-winning kind.
After his three-point night in Game 6, Kane now has 24 goals and 52 points in Games 4-7 over his career in the postseason. All of that comes in 45 career games in those situations (Stats via Elias through NHL Communications). That's 60 percent of his 86 career playoff points coming in late-series situations.
When the game is on the line, the Blackhawks unquestionably want the puck on Kane's stick at all cost, just like any team would with their better players.
You may or may not call that clutch. You're free to call it whatever you want. Kane seems to score these goals and make these plays too frequently, however, to just be considered extremely lucky, which in the end is what a lot of clutch players are.
There seems to be less luck involved when Kane is doing what he does and that makes him standout in a sea of the clutchiest, grindiest players in all of hockey.
No matter what you call it, Kane's three-point night has helped propel the Blackhawks into a Game 7 where they will meet a team full of "clutch players" who have faced elimination six times already this postseason and have played in two Games 7s over the last few weeks.
We can reignite an entire clutch debate after then. For now, just enjoy some of the best players in the league today doing some amazing things in this Western Conference Final, perhaps none more than Kane himself.