NASHVILLE -- Trailing two games to one and facing the Nashville Predators on the road, the heavily favored Chicago Blackhawks managed to win three straight games to advance in their first-round Western Conference series.
In Game 5, Chicago needed a shorthanded goal with 13.6 seconds left to tie the game before killing a major penalty and winning in overtime, and in the series-clinching game one could argue the difference was a fluke goal scored from the neutral zone.
In Monday's 5-3 victory in Game 6 over Nashville, Chicago stunned Nashville with a lucky bounce and Jonathan Toews scored the game-winner on the power play in a wild first period before a raucous crowd of 17,111 at Bridgestone Arena.
"It just seemed like Nashville wouldn't go away," said Chicago forward John Madden, a vital cog in a group of penalty-killers which limited Nashville to a 1-for-26 success rate over the six games -- a key factor in the series.
"You've got to tip your cap to them. They just kept coming and coming and coming. And all of their guys played well. They didn't have any passengers any night and I'm sure if their leading goal-scorer (Patric Hornqvist) was healthy, it would've really helped them a lot.
"You need some breaks and you need people to stay healthy in order to go along way in the playoffs."
Despite eight power plays over the final two periods, neither team could score until Madden potted an empty-netter to seal the win at 19:52 of the third period.
With the game tied at 1-1 midway through the first period, momentum and fate swung in Chicago's direction. Off a faceoff, Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook shot the puck into Nashville's end from along the right-wing boards just inside the red line. Patrick Kane attempted to get out of the way and jumped into the air. The puck appeared to hit the skate laces of his hovering right boot and changed direction -- instead of heading to the corner, it went toward the path of the goal.
Preds goalie Pekka Rinne had left his crease in anticipation of playing the puck, but did not have time to get back in net after it changed direction. He dove futilely into the net and Kane was credited with the goal.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was asked about the "quirkiness" of that goal at 9:54 of the first period and how it summed up the chaos of the first 20 minutes, in which seven goals were scored.
"Especially coming off the last game's ending," Quenneville said. "I didn't know whose (it was) because I couldn't see because it was right in front of the bench and it was down there and happened to hit Kaner. What a fortunate bounce.
"Sometimes you get a break like that. You know, had a nice little momentum thing but the next thing you know it's 3-3. We didn't take advantage of it the way we should've or could've. But at the same time the fourth goal was a huge one."
Said Nashville coach Barry Trotz: "At that moment you're going, 'What else can you pile on us emotionally?'"
Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa was on the losing side of one of those goals in the 2007 playoffs for Atlanta when the New York Rangers' Sean Avery beat goalie Johan Hedberg with a dump-in that ricocheted off the boards and took a bizarre bounce.
"It's always more fun, you know, to be on the team that scored that goal because those goals usually end up being one of the key goals," Hossa said. "They kind of give you momentum. It's kind of stunning for the other team that we scored that type of goal."
Patrick Sharp scored 2:09 later on a rebound from close range. It was a typically scrappy goal for Sharp, who had three in the series and all seemingly like that.
But Nashville rallied to tie the game at 3-3. Preds center Jason Arnott finally ended Nashville's failure on the power play in the series and his own inability to get on the scoresheet with a tap-in at the 15:44 mark. Arnott later was credited with another goal after Dan Hamhuis's slap shot deflected off him in front of the net.
But Toews scored the game-winner just seven seconds after Jerred Smithson went off for hooking. The tally came with just 31 seconds left in the first.
It held up through five Chicago power plays in the second period and three for Nashville in the final 30 minutes.
Madden played 2:07 short-handed in the final period, critical time for Chicago.
"There's never any easy rounds in this business," Quenneville said. "The first round might be the toughest around league. Everyone's fresh, looking forward to it. We were fortunate with key bounces to get W's out of it."
Shift of the game: Nashville had just rallied to tie the score on a pair of Jason Arnott goals, and it looked like the Predators and Blackhawks would skate 3-3 into the first intermission. But Jerred Smithson took a hooking penalty 17 seconds after Arnott’s second of the game, and Chicago captain Jonathan Toews needed all of seven ticks off the clock before he put a wrister past Pekka Rinne for what turned out to be the game-winning and series-clinching power-play goal.
1 - 0 CHI
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 CHI