Blackhawks suddenly back in series after winning instant classic
Facing sudden postseason death, the Chicago Blackhawks got life in the series thanks to Michal Handzus' game-winning goal to close out one of the postseason's best games.
Whoever coined the term "sudden death" for overtime got it right. Any other name doesn't seem to do it justice. It really isn't about the death part, the goal itself or the fact that the game has ended. It's the suddenness of it all that packs the biggest punch -- the fact that in a blink of an eye it's all over and irreversible.
For the Los Angeles Kings, Michal Handzus' Game 5-winning goal 2:04 into the second overtime suddenly ended a night to celebrate a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. For the Chicago Blackhawks, suddenly they were still alive in the Western Conference FInal and back in the series with a 5-4 victory on home ice.
Anyone that took the time to watch the game, fell into it, got rag-dolled by it and came out on the other end as satisfied as any hockey fan ever was. One of the finest games of this entire postseason may have lasted 82:04, but it only took an instant to disappear.
The memories of an instant classic will remain, however.
From the drop of the puck, Game 5 between the Blackhawks and Kings had the feeling of a special game. Two of the best teams very much looking like it throughout, Wednesday night's tilt at Chicago's United Center was playoff hockey in its highest form.
It took Chicago just 1:13 to get on the scoreboard, a much-needed spark from Brent Seabrook with his team's playoff hopes hanging by a thread. Four more goals came in that first period, two from the Blackhawks and two from the Kings. Though playing with the lead, at that point 3-2, Chicago's grasp on it looked anything but safe.
A pair of rough goals allowed by Corey Crawford in the second period proved just how precarious a lead can be this postseason. Kings' rookie Tanner Pearson's snapshot from the top of the right faceoff circle slipped high to the left corner, across Crawford's body and a puck most goaltenders would stop. It was a shot Crawford had to stop. He didn't and all of the sudden, the game and Chicago's postseason was very much in doubt.
As Crawford sulked through the remainder of the period, the Blackhawks were unable to find the equalizer before the middle frame ended. Twenty minutes was all that separated the Blackhawks from elimination and the end of their bid to repeat as champions.
That sinking feeling lasted a mere 1:17 into the third period as the Blackhawks found the equalizer, breathing life back into the game and Chicago's postseason dream. This time it came off the stick of Ben Smith, who converted on a long rebound allowed by Jonathan Quick on a hard drive to the net. The building erupted in more a sense of relief than celebration, but an agonizing 18:43 remained with the score square.
The Blackhawks went on to outshoot the Kings 16-8 in the final 20 of regulation, playing at a frenetic pace and showing the desperation a team with its life on the line should play with.
It turned out, that was only a side salad for the filling main course of overtime.
Non-stop, end-to-end action included just about everything but whistles and goals in the first overtime period. Stoppages were hard to come by, leaving nary a chance to breathe for either team or anyone whose legs were barely holding them onto the edge of their seat.
The first overtime was a thrill ride. Each team traded high quality chances, with the previously shaky goalies making some strong stops. The Kings held the slight shot edge of 10-8, with 23 total shot attempts shared by the two teams that period.
It seemed that the game could have ended a number of times, from Andrew Shaw catching a pass on a broken play and not getting enough on the shot, to a net-front scramble leading to Crawford getting dinged in the helmet from point-blank range off the stick of Marian Gaborik, one of this year's hottest scorers.
That such a frenetically played overtime, one that Blackhawks head coach Joel Qunneville called "one of the greatest overtimes I've ever seen," ended without a goal was incredible. When the final horn sounded on the first of the extra frames, you didn't need a rooting interest to feel that you had just run the gamut of emotions such a game brings.
Perhaps Handzus' early goal in the second OT, which came off a wonderful pass from 21-year-old Brandon Saad (who was near unstoppable the entire game), was a merciful ending. Could anyone have handled another full 20 minutes at that pace? Probably not those staying up past their bedtimes and definitely not the players on the ice.
There were 157 shots attempted in the game, 81 of which came from Chicago. Game 5 was as down the middle as it gets. Either team could have won the game and deserved it.
The best part about the game (unless you're a Kings fan) is that it extends the series in the most exhilarating of ways, setting the stage for more entertaining hockey and the drama you'd hope to find with the two best teams in the league battling for a spot in the Cup Final.
Though a classic, Game 5 wasn't perfect. It was not a particularly great display of goaltending, as both Quick and Crawford looked shaky at times.
The stars came out to shine in this one, though, with Chicago's Patrick Kane having his best game of the series to date with four assists. On the other side, Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar continued their brilliance with strong play at both ends.
For perhaps the first time, this series between the most recent Stanley Cup champions lived up to its top billing among the two conference finals.
Suddenly, now, the Blackhawks have life in the series, even if winning in Los Angeles could prove difficult. If they do manage to stretch it to seven, it will be the effort in Game 5 that springboards them back into this one.
This tilt between two of the league's heavyweights will be remembered as one of this postseason's best and an example of playoff hockey as you always hope to see it. The only problem now is, how will Game 6 ever live up to that?
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