CHICAGO – United Center was insane for a brief moment late in the third period Wednesday as it appeared defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson had given the Chicago Blackhawks a lead against the Detroit Red Wings in a tightly contested Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
But the celebration was both premature and short-lived.
While Blackhawks fans high-fived and pounded on the glass partitions surrounding the rink, the on-ice officials were already waving off the call because the whistle had blown before Hjalmarsson's shot. So, the score remained tied at 1-1 with 1:49 left in the third period as order was restored quickly.
But what had actually happened?
Behind the play, Detroit defenseman Kyle Quincey had put Chicago's rookie forward, Brandon Saad, into the Red Wings bench and then shoved him to the ice. Saad threw a gloved swipe at Quincey's face from his back and both drew roughing minors that were called by referee Stephen Walkom before Hjalmarsson took his shot. Once Walkom blew his whistle, the play was dead.
Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith knew immediately the apparent goal was for naught -- he heard the whistle blow.
"I did hear a whistle," Keith said. "I heard the whistle before [Hjalmarsson] even got the puck, but great shot by [him.] I wish it would've counted. I just think our composure to not get frustrated [was huge]."
Red Wings forward Danny Cleary also knew it wasn't a goal.
"I was right there," he said. "I heard the whistle. No one really cared."
"I almost threw my stick up in the stands there," he said. "I got pretty mad. I got pretty happy when I thought I scored. I was probably looking like a fool celebrating in the middle of the ice. Kind of a roller-coaster there, but we won the game and that's all that matters."
It took Hjalmarsson most of the intermission before overtime to regain his composure, but teammate Dave Bolland actually found it a little humorous given Hjalmarsson's normally laid-back persona.
"It was actually pretty funny seeing [him[ hopping around like that," Bolland said. "We came in the room we were calm and we were confident that when we went out for [overtime] that we were going to come through. With the depth that we have, we can do damage out there."
Oddly enough, Howard didn't hear the whistle blow before Hjalmarsson's shot and initially thought he'd given up a huge goal.
"You couldn't hear anything down on the ice," Howard said. "It was so loud you couldn't hear the back ref blowing the whistle. It's just one of those things you take."
Like the Blackhawks, the Red Wings went back to their dressing room and got ready for overtime.
"We felt good about our chances going out there in overtime," Howard said. "They were able to get the bounce you need in the playoffs and won."
Bolland's hit on Gustav Nyquist at the half wall led to the bounce Chicago needed to finish off a rally from a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in franchise history.
Nyquist's attempt to shovel the puck toward the Chicago zone wound up on Seabrook's stick in the neutral zone. Seabrook then carried it into the Detroit zone uncontested and fired the shot that made the "Madhouse on Madison" go mad with delight once more – this time for real.
After composing themselves during the intermission before overtime, the Blackhawks were rewarded in the end.
"At the end of the day, there's nothing you can do but move on," Keith said of the controversy ending regulation. "You're going to overtime and it was no goal, so you can't just sit around and feel sorry. There's still a game, there's still overtime and still somebody's got to score another goal to win it. There was no panic. We just moved on from it."