After Wednesday’s exhilarating 5-4 win over Los Angeles in double overtime, the Blackhawks now have an opportunity to force Game 7 if they can conquer the Kings at Staples Center on Friday night. Chicago has managed at least one road win per series dating back to the 2009 Western Conference Final, a trend that must continue to prolong their playoff run. It’ll be difficult for both teams to forget the pure adrenaline rush of the first overtime period at the United Center, which produced a 7:56 stretch of uninterrupted hockey and was completed in just 26 real-time minutes. Game 6 may not present such an array of end-to-end action, as both teams will try to limit their opponent’s scoring chances.
Chicago’s blue line had been stymied offensively and overrun defensively in Games 3 and 4 of the series, prompting head coach Joel Quenneville to switch up all three pairings. Although there were still a few defensive miscues in Game 5, the defensive corps looked reinvigorated on the attack, producing two early goals to pace the team. Brent Seabrook blasted a power-play tally just 1:13 into the contest, posting his first point of the series after collecting 11 over his first nine playoff outings. Less than 3 minutes later, Johnny Oduya joined the rush and potted the Blackhawks’ second goal of the game—his first goal and third point of the series. Whether Quenneville stays with the new configuration remains to be seen, but the blue line knows it has to keep contributing in order to stave off elimination.
The two driving forces for Chicago in Game 5—a matter of statistical fact, but also evidenced by their placement among the Three Stars of the Game—were Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, who not only shared a line and combined for 13 shots on goal, but played a part in all five Blackhawks goals. Kane, held to just one point in his four previous games, collected a career-high four assists (regular and postseason), the first time a Blackhawks player has done so in the playoffs since Steve Larmer on April 30, 1990. Saad, who Kane later called “the best player on the ice,” tallied a goal and two helpers—the first on Ben Smith’s game-tying goal in the third period, the second a perfect, incisive pass that sprung Michal Handzus for the game-winner. The 21-year-old now leads Chicago with six points (3G, 3A) in five tilts against L.A. and ranks fourth on the team with 13 points (5G, 8A) in 17 playoff games.
Through the start of the second overtime period, Handzus’ numbers on the stat sheet had not been inspiring: no shots on goal and a 3-for-14 mark at the faceoff dot in limited ice time. But he won his next draw against Trevor Lewis, helped retrieve the puck in the neutral zone, then skated to an open position to receive Saad’s pass, make a move on Jonathan Quick and finish with a high backhand shot. Handzus’ other major contribution in Game 5 was less glorious than the skillful finish on his first career playoff overtime goal, but no less important: He shared the lead among team forwards with 2:59 of ice time on the penalty kill, which kept the Kings quiet for the first time since Game 1.
In contrast with the Blackhawks, who generated offense mainly through the line of Kane, Saad and Andrew Shaw (eight assists and nine points combined), L.A. once again received relatively balanced scoring in Game 5. The top trio of Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown scored twice and added three assists, while the second and third lines each contributed a tally. Chicago did succeed in keeping the Kings’ mobile defensive corps entirely off the board by shutting down the lane on outside shots and pressuring the points, and Blackhawks forwards will need to continue putting pressure on L.A.’s blue line, especially on the road, where they have had some difficulty executing their forecheck in previous games.
The Blackhawks cleared the first of three elimination hurdles in Game 5, surviving a game with plenty of ups and downs. While Chicago can take heart in their offensive surge (which generated 45 shots on net and 81 shot attempts) and a renewed penalty kill, coaches and players alike will still be itching to limit the kinds of turnovers that led to the Kings’ second and third goals and ultimately a blown multi-goal lead. With the postseason still on the line, the Blackhawks will need their leaders and best players to set the tone and produce a few more big moments, knowing that a potential Game 7 at the United Center will favor them.