ANAHEIM–Neither overt dejection nor irrational exuberance is a hobby of the Blackhawks, as evidenced by Jonathan Toews’ state of the union address. If you did not know the result, it could not be found on his face or in his voice.
“We feel we’re a tough team to get rid of,” said the captain, recognizing the calm and the resolve throughout a visitors’ locker room that might otherwise be reeling were it not for the pedigree within.
Only moments after Toews forged an outrageous tie, Matt Beleskey scored just 45 seconds into overtime Monday night to lift the Anaheim Ducks to a 5-4 victory in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final. Beleskey, who admitted he’s seen enough of the Blackhawks to last a lifetime, slammed home a rebound on an odd-man rush to provide the Ducks a 3-2 lead in a super series that will resume Wednesday night at the United Center.
Toews suggested the Blackhawks are best when their margin of error is perilously thin, and they are there now. In 2013, they faced three consecutive elimination possibilities in the Conference Semifinal against the Detroit Red Wings, won them all, and earned a Stanley Cup. But these Ducks are not those Red Wings, and these Ducks have home ice advantage.
Mind you, these Ducks are bucking a history of demons. Since their Cup in 2007, they have conducted an array of unfinished symphonies. Only last spring, they had the Los Angeles Kings down, 3-2 in games, only to be extinguished in the Honda Center. That’s why 17,286 here squirmed when Toews enacted the improbable late in the third period after Patrick Maroon culminated a snappy passing sequence for a 4-2 Anaheim lead.
With Corey Crawford off for a sixth skater, Toews uncorked a blast that Frederik Andersen still has not seen. That came at 18:10. Anaheim, scrambling, used its time out shortly thereafter. The Blackhawks kept pressing, not that Toews’ shot from below the goal line on the left seemed a viable threat. Yet, it deflected in off Andersen’s left skate at 19:22. Tie game at 4-4, and the kings of overtime were in the building.
“I told our guys to get angry,” said Anaheim Head Coach Bruce Boudreau. He added that it was only proper that Andersen’s mates bail him out after all the times he’s covered for them. Whether he was shaky for the fourth period, we’ll never know. Ryan Kesler, a force tonight, shot on Crawford with only Brent Seabrook defending. Beleskey did not miss.
Crawford had no chance there, or during an abysmal opening act when the Blackhawks surrendered three goals in a period for the seventh time this postseason. It was 3-0 just like that, and it could have been 5-0. Or 6-0. Take your pick. Whatever, the Blackhawks were fortunate to emerge from the initial 20 minutes with 0.
After intermission and with energy to spare, the Blackhawks gradually emerged from their black hole. Teuvo Teravainen slipped one through the pads of Andersen early in the second. That served as a warning. The Blackhawks began making some plays and showing a little rhythm. The Ducks did nothing spectacular, didn’t have any shots until the ninth minute, and couldn’t do much when the Blackhawks were called yet again for too many men on the ice.
Then the next salvo came from the Blackhawks. Teravainen, working behind the net, issued an exceptional pass to Seabrook, who scored over Andersen. Now, it was 3-2 for Anaheim. You thought about counting the extraordinary saves Crawford executed during the first period, before the time out Head Coach Joel Quenneville burned in the sixth minute, and after. While he was behind the bench boiling, Crawford meandered over to chat with backup Scott Darling. If a lonely Crawford was looking for a friend at that juncture, who could blame him?
But the Blackhawks do not go quietly, not even when they wind up losing their first overtime game after four successful playoff marathons. As this series has progressed, the teams have done what comes naturally. They have developed some sincere grudges. Beleskey volunteered that he is “sick” of seeing the Blackhawks. Absolutely sick of them. This is healthy. They have been bumping into each other for a week, have Anaheim and Chicago.
Toews was circumspect on the matter. He noted that if the Blackhawks were pitted against, say, the Kings or Vancouver Canucks, there would be instant recognition because the Blackhawks and the opposition “could pick up where they left off.” But the Blackhawks and Ducks have no playoff form chart, so this is sort of an exploratory venture, an introduction to future hostility. If you’ve been around for a while, you doubtless remember when opposing teams did not dislike the Blackhawks at all. Everybody enjoyed the Blackhawks, except their fans.
Kesler also chimed in, insisting that his team’s style would prevail. “It’s going to wear them down,” he said. “No human can withstand that many hits.” Kesler is easy to detest as a foe and much appreciated as a teammate. His theory on the physical motif is not new. Discounting the fact that it also takes energy to initiate body work, it is also noteworthy that the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins tried knocking the Blackhawks off their blades in 2010 and 2013, respectively. The Blackhawks, although perhaps sore, were never too tired to attend a parade in their honor.
They’ve got heavy lifting to do now, but at the risk of infuriating Duck Nation, this series really does deserve a Game 7 here Saturday night.