ANAHEIM – Character can't be awarded. It must be earned.
The Chicago Blackhawks have earned their share of character while making five trips to the Western Conference Final and claiming the Stanley Cup twice during the past seven seasons. They put every ounce of that hard-earned character on display Tuesday, outlasting the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in triple overtime in an instant classic of a Game 2 of the Western Conference Final at Honda Center.
"We love to battle," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
Chicago got the game-winner at 16:12 of the third OT when forward Marcus Kruger batted down Brent Seabrook's blast from the point and shoveled the puck past goalie Frederik Andersen. The goal ended a game that was the longest in the history of the Blackhawks and the existence of the Honda Center.
"Experience definitely helps," goalie Corey Crawford said. "We've gone through it before. Maybe less nerves. But for sure it definitely helps when we've been through a bunch of these situations."
Kruger's goal, the second Stanley Cup Playoff winner of his career, set off a wild celebration that was one part exuberance, one part relief and one part vindication.
The best-of-7 series is tied at 1-1 as it heads to Chicago for Game 3 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), and the Blackhawks feel so much better about their predicament than they did entering Game 2, or even after the second period Tuesday when they coughed up a 2-0 lead and were outshot 17-1 in the final 11:27 of the period.
After a 4-1 loss in Game 1, the Blackhawks endured questions about a defense that went only four players deep, about a power play that was loaded with talent but wasn't delivering goals and whether they were going to wilt under the intense and imposing forecheck of their bigger opponent.
They answered the power-play question immediately, scoring on each of their first two opportunities in Game 2 to take a 2-0 lead 6:19 into the game. They answered the ability to survive question by absorbing 71 hits during five-plus periods of play. Their defense remained, for the most part, a four-man rotation despite the length of the game.
Duncan Keith played 49:51 of the 116:12. Brent Seabrook played 47:45. Niklas Hjalmarsson played 47:35 and Johnny Oduya played 46:05. Francois Beauchemin, the defenseman who saw the ice the most for Anaheim, played 46:29
Despite the workload, Oduya and Seabrook figured prominently in the deciding goal. Oduya made the initial pass along the blue line to Seabrook, who somehow timed his slapper to meet the puck just as it settled on the ice and caused the chaos that allowed Kruger to step into the role of hero.
It's not the first time Seabrook has delivered in a big spot for the Blackhawks, and it likely won't be the last. He is one of those guys who has a knack for the big moment.
"It seems like [Brent Seabrook] is always the guy having an influence on the game offensively and in an overtime game like that," Chicago forward Patrick Sharp said. "I guess you can draw on some experience but they certainly had their chances to win the game as well."
So did Chicago before Kruger ended the drama.
In fact, it looked like Andrew Shaw had won the game at 8:47 of the second overtime when he headed a rebound past Andersen. But the goal was disallowed upon review because it was deemed that he deliberately directed the puck into the net with his head, and nothing aside from a stick may deliberately direct the puck into the net.
That meant the Blackhawks had to disentangle themselves from the celebration and focus again on the task of pushing their battered and bruised bodies up and down the ice, willing a little more energy from burning lungs and worn-out legs.
They did it with ease, a feat other teams have struggled with in similar situations. Again, it was hard-earned character playing its part.
"It feels like it's happened a few times to us," Kruger said. "We've been able to bounce back right after that. I mean, at least me, I thought the game was over there. Then they called it back. We had to regroup. I think we did a great job staying with it. Ended up with the win later."
Anaheim had some glorious chances to win as well, but could not solve Crawford for the final 78:42 of the game. The goalie who lost the starting job during the first round made 60 saves in a game Chicago desperately needed. He also was the beneficiary of three goal-post strikes by the Ducks during overtime.
"I thought he battled," Quenneville said of his oft-maligned goalie. "I thought he was outstanding. Quick, alert, handled the puck, rebound control, challenged. Made a couple gigantic saves."
The Blackhawks battled throughout the game to a man, even to little-used veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen and less-used journeyman Kyle Cumiskey.
That's what these Blackhawks do. It's what is now in their DNA, earned from numerous trials by fire during the past seven years of success.
On Tuesday, it once again paid huge dividends.
Author: Shawn Roarke | Director, Editorial