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Between the Dots: Game 5 was stellar theater

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

Over their dead-tired bodies were the Blackhawks going to reach out for anything Wednesday night — or Thursday morning, if necessary — except boarding passes for a flight to Game 6 in Los Angeles.

Handshake line at the United Center? These defending Stanley Cup champions would not do that to their fans, who showed up in good throat despite extenuating circumstances surrounding this Western Conference Final.

If crowd support from 21,871 who staged several standing ovations counted on the scoreboard, the Blackhawks would have won going away. Instead they won the old-fashioned playoff way, with shifts getting shorter and beards growing longer.

After an exhilarating first overtime, Michal Handzus extended this best-of-seven tournament at 2:04 of the second sudden death with a backhander to vanquish Jonathan Quick and the Kings, 5-4. How athletes on either side found the gumption to produce such stellar theater is a marvel, but now you know why you never see a fat hockey player.

The evening started with a fast pace, then escalated toward faster, blowing all stop signs en route to a crescendo. Coaching staffs might have aged, but if this was the first hockey game you ever watched and you are not hooked, consult your doctor immediately.

Casting calls were staged at the morning skate, when Joel Quenneville announced to his boys of winter that Patrick Kane would be on a line with Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad.

“That’s the first we heard we’d be together,” recalled Saad. But it will not be their last roundup. Unfortunately for Shaw, he incurred an apparent leg injury late in the third period. However, his plus-3, Saad’s plus-4 and Kane’s plus-3 with four assists probably mean that even Coach Q might consider this unit a keeper, when healthy.

As it was, Handzus, a faceoff and penalty-killing maestro who didn’t really need to shower after Game 4, clicked on the winner after being provided the puck by Saad and Kane. Handzus confessed that he had not been contributing much to the cause lately, but flying first class with Saad and Kane had to be a treat. If “Zeus” didn’t have problems keeping up with the kids, the Kings did.

Brent Seabrook, separated from Duncan Keith, started the fun on an early power play, and Johnny Oduya soon made it 2-0. When a TV timeout briefly interrupted in the seventh minute, fans arose as if to request curtain calls. Several followed, not all appealing to the partisan audience.

The Kings are as patient as a bale of turtles, but a lot faster. So it came as no surprise that they would nudge to within 2-1, then 3-2 after Saad scored and Quick had deprived Jonathan Toews of upping it to 4-1. When Dustin Brown and Tanner Pearson beat Corey Crawford two minutes apart in the second, Los Angeles had a 4-3 advantage and that intangible — momentum.

But reliable Ben Smith snatched it back early in the third period, making it 4-4, and as time passed, not a creature was stirring in UC parking lots, not even a mouse. Game 5 had it all, including a holding the stick penalty on Niklas Hjalmarsson only because, when he flung Drew Doughty’s weapon, referees could find no specific punishment for the javelin toss.

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