GLENDALE, Ariz.—In this searing heat, one must stay hydrated. So perhaps the Blackhawks are waterlogged, or merely delirious. Whatever, after Saturday night’s white-knuckle 2-1 overtime victory over the Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena, they believe they just might have seized momentum in this Western Conference quarterfinal. That is, although they still trail 3 games to 2, it is Phoenix doing the chasing.
It’s something to cling to, given the Coyotes’ iffy playoff history—they have dropped 13 straight series—and the winning coach, Joel Quenneville, did volunteer that his team has not yet played its best. Yet here they are, still breathing and infinitely better off than two other perennial postseason contenders, Detroit and San Jose, both vanquished.
Game 5 was resolved by captain Jonathan Toews, who took a draw in the right circle of Phoenix territory, got the puck back from a scrum off Viktor Stalberg’s stick, then fired a high missile past Mike Smith’s blocker side at only 2:44 of sudden death. We say “only” because one of these nights—maybe Monday night at the United Center—sudden death will not be so sudden. The miracle is not that the every start in this series has gone past regulation; the miracle is that at least one of them hasn’t gone past midnight.
“Lots of character in here,” said Captain Serious, who presided over a brief players’ only gathering at the morning skate, then did what born leaders do. He would not let the Blackhawks lose and be eliminated. Not here and not now, anyway. And not with Marian Hossa’s white jersey hanging before his vacant stall in the locker room.
The Blackhawks, down 1-0 after two periods on a Gilbert Brule blast, tied the match at 9:15 of the third when Nick Leddy beat Smith. Shortly thereafter on a power play, Duncan Keith and Leddy both rattled Smith, who went down. Leddy had a yawning net at his disposal, but fired high. A glorious opportunity for the guests to take a lead and pacify the anxious sellout crowd of 17,746, but why not stick to the program? The Blackhawks extended their National Hockey League record of seven consecutive overtime playoff games, and five in one tournament equals a mark established in 1951.
The Blackhawks nicely survived four penalties by Stalberg, who was not partial to a particular type of infraction. He took one each for roughing, slashing, tripping and interference. They also benefitted by some noteworthy trench work from Brandon Saad on Leddy’s goal. The Coyotes amassed 32 hits and 29 blocked shots—to Chicago’s 27 and 9, respectively—but on their sporadic ventures up ice, they encountered a goalie with confidence restored.
“I thought about Thursday night a while, yeah,” admitted Crawford, referring to the squishy Coyote tie-breaker. “But I tried to forget it, and one reason I can is the guys in this room.”
His teammates, in case you haven’t heard, respect Crawford immensely. They like playing in front of him, and they take whatever measures required to pump his tires when Crawford is beating himself up.
Game 6, by the way, will begin at 8 Monday night. And if it doesn’t end until Tuesday morning, don’t say you weren’t warned.