The Chicago Blackhawks dug down deep to stave off elimination for at least one more game, beating the Los Angeles Kings 5-4 in double overtime of Game 5 in the Western Conference Final. As a result, the Kings' series lead shrunk to 3-2.
Michal Handzus scored the winner a little over two minutes into the second overtime period. It was his first goal ever in a playoff overtime, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Pro wrestler and Blackhawks fan CM Punk spoke for many Chicago fans:
While the reigning Stanley Cup champions were far from perfect, they started out hot, and when things turned for the worse later, they didn't completely collapse and lose their heads. Chicago looked like a seasoned playoff team.
Speaking ahead of Game 5, Niklas Hjalmarsson said that he felt the Blackhawks would snap out of their funk in Game 5 and return to what made them so good before.
"I think we're the kind of team that in the past and just during the regular season, when we're down, we're playing our best hockey," the defenseman posited, per Scott Powers of ESPNChicago.com. "That's what I expect from the team tonight and from myself. I think we're going to have our best game of the series here. Everybody's confident here in our team that we can turn this around."
Hjalmarsson was half-right. The Blackhawks did play some of their best hockey of the postseason on Wednesday night, but that was balanced with long stretches in which they looked utterly hopeless.
The first period was the good. Chicago jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game. Brent Seabrook scored on the power play one minute and 13 seconds in, and then Johnny Oduya followed up two-and-a-half minutes later.
The United Center crowd came unglued after Oduya's goal:
Matt Spiegel of 670 The Score in Chicago felt the Blackhawks came out with the perfect kind of attitude to start the game:
Surely with a two-goal lead and playing at home, the defending Stanley Cup champions could hold on and drag the series to a Game 6. If anything, though, the Blackhawks may have scored too early.
Los Angeles responded at 9:49 to halve the deficit. Jarret Stoll picked up his first point of the series with a goal to make it a 2-1 game.
While some fans may have begun to feel a bit uneasy, Brandon Saad allayed their fears at 11:06 with a goal to build Chicago's lead back up to two goals, 3-1. Saad passed the puck off to Andrew Shaw, whose shot was saved by Jonathan Quick. Luckily for Chicago, the 21-year-old winger pounced on the rebound.
That was the resolve Spiegel had tweeted about earlier in the game. Rather than get deflated after Stoll's goal, the Blackhawks put their heads down and went right after the Kings:
Kane picked up his third assist of the night on Saad's goal, which tripled his output from the previous four games, per ESPN Chicago:
Despite starting out so well, slowly but surely, Chicago watched its lead evaporate. The mental determination the players had shown for the majority of the first period completely disappeared.
Marian Gaborik scored his 11th goal of this postseason at 13:16 of the first period to get the Kings back in it at 3-2. The 32-year-old also moved to within four of Wayne Gretzky's franchise record for playoff goals in a single postseason, per ESPN Stats & Info:
After ending the first period on a low note, the Blackhawks came unraveled in the second.
Dustin Brown scored on a rebound a little over 11 minutes in to tie the game at 3-3. Persistence was the key for the Kings, as Brown had a shot blocked by Seabrook followed up by two saves by Corey Crawford before Brown cleaned up the mess.
Peggy Kusinski of NBC Chicago thought Chicago couldn't afford to give L.A. that many opportunities in front of the goal:
Kris Versteeg will have to accept some blame for the goal, because his failure to clear the puck set up Brown's first effort, which sparked the scoring move. Versteeg had played poorly up to that point, with Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times going so far as to call the winger "a disaster":
From there, a go-ahead goal seemed inevitable for Los Angeles, and Tanner Pearson duly delivered two minutes after Brown tied the game, making it 4-3 in favor of the Kings.
With the point, Pearson tied the Kings' team record for longest playoff point streak, per NHL Public Relations:
The third period couldn't have come at a better time. Joel Quenneville could get the Blackhawks players in the locker room and remind them that they're the current Stanley Cup champions.
Whatever Quenneville said worked wonders. Chicago was a completely different team in the final frame of regulation. It had an attacking verve once again and returned to the imperious form it displayed in the first period.
Ben Smith tied the game at 4-4 1:17 into the third. He did a great job of following the play, finding himself in the right place at the right time to poke home the rebound after Quick got a pad to a shot from Saad.
Although Chicago had to wait for the winner, it was well worth the drama and frayed nerves.
The series heads back to Los Angeles for Game 6.
The Kings have already had two series pushed to seven games, and after a double-overtime thriller, you wonder if fatigue will start to become a factor. L.A.'s best shot at advancing to the Stanley Cup Final may be on Friday. If the Kings lose Game 6, they'll have to win a Game 7 in Chicago.
Los Angeles had a chance to put the Blackhawks away. After scoring three unanswered goals, the momentum firmly rested with the Kings. Then, they let Chicago back into the game in the third period, and there was no going back from there.
It could be a mistake that costs the Kings the Western Conference Final and a shot at revenge against the team that knocked them out at this stage last year.