The Chicago Blackhawks staved off NHL postseason elimination against the Detroit Red Wings in the United Center on Saturday evening, emerging with a 4-1 victory in Game 5.
That cuts Detroit’s lead in the Western Conference semifinal series to 3-2. The President's Trophy-winning Blackhawks will need two similar performances to avoid a disappointingly early playoff exit.
It was a heated battle throughout as the top-seeded Blackhawks finally rose to the physical challenge that has been stymieing their bid for a second Stanley Cup in four seasons.
Sports anchor Rafer Weigel of ABC7 in Chicago made an astute observation during the action:
Rafer Weigel @RaferWeigel
Before this series there was a mutual respect between #Hawks and #Wings. They always said hatred was really w/ the fans. Not anymore.2013-5-26 01:24:31
Particularly encouraging was the power-play goal by captain Jonathan Toews with 4:13 left in the second period that gave Chicago the insurance it needed heading into the third.
To begin the Blackhawks' charge, Bryan Bickell streaked toward Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard and was denied on a backhand shot. A skirmish ensued in front of the goal, and Bickell casually skated around the net before the puck came right to him, and he ripped it past Howard to put the hosting Blackhawks on the board first with under six minutes left in the first period.
It was a scrappy sort of goal, but it was further glorified by what Bickell’s shot did to the goal camera, per NHL.com’s Brian Hedger:
Brian Hedger @BrianHedger
Also, Bickell's shot broke the goal camera ... which was pretty sweet. #Blackhawks2013-5-26 00:47:34
Dan Cleary banged home a rebound during an odd-man rush to even up the score at one apiece. It was his fourth goal of the playoffs, which is particularly surprising since Cleary found the net just nine times in 48 regular-season games.
But from there, the Blackhawks finally picked up the slack with the man advantage. Defenseman Duncan Keith ripped a one-timer from just inside the blue line, which Andrew Shaw redirected to give the Blackhawks the 2-1 advantage.
Nick Cotsonika of Yahoo! Sports could hardly believe it:
Nick Cotsonika @cotsonika
Chicago scores on the po .. almost can't type this ... power play. 2-1, Hawks.2013-5-26 01:40:27
Another power play—courtesy of a two-minute penalty for Detroit left-winger Justin Abdelkader—gave the Blackhawks another golden opportunity that they did not let go to waste. Toews took a feed from Marian Hossa and roofed it past Howard from the doorstep for his first goal of the entire postseason.
This type of pinpoint execution is something Chicago struggled with even during the regular season, when it ranked 19th in power-play percentage. Although that's not the best ranking, the unit’s play in these playoffs was far worse entering Saturday, as ESPN’s John Bucigross pointed out:
Bucci Mane @Buccigross
Blackhawks: 1-12 on power play in this series, 3-25 (12.0 pct) on power play this postseason #inexcusable2013-5-25 12:39:55
The Blackhawks converted two of their three opportunities in Game 5, and that was the big difference in extending their season.
Despite the best efforts of Red Wings stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, Chicago was determined not to lose this one.
Shaw netted his second goal after Viktor Stalberg's shot caromed off the boards behind Howard and sat just in front of the goal. In the right place at the right time, Shaw stuffed it home from point-blank range, putting the game effectively out of reach.
Renowned film critic Richard Roeper summarized the sentiment surrounding the Blackhawks in a succinct, effective manner, as they finally looked like the dominant force they were in the regular season:
Richard Roeper @richardroeper
Now THAT'S the 2013 Blackhawks. Great effort. #gamesix2013-5-26 02:50:08
It is still desperation time for Chicago, because Joel Quenneville's club still needs two more victories, including one in Joe Louis Arena in Game 6 on Monday evening at 8 p.m. ET.
At least if the Blackhawks lose to the seventh-seeded Red Wings in that contest, it won't be in front of the home fans. However, if Toews can step up again and Chicago can execute its power play effectively, don't be surprised if this series goes the distance.