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Dodging Ducks' combo, Blackhawks fought back

by Shawn P. Roarke / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- As the Western Conference Final evolves into a heavyweight brawl featuring two behemoths with completely different styles, the Chicago Blackhawks are showing they have the granite chin necessary to absorb the haymakers of their hungry opponent.

The Blackhawks were on the mat again Saturday in Game 4, trailing by a goal in the third period, their bleary eyes focused squarely on the potential of a win-or-go-home scenario if the Anaheim Ducks could get through the final 10:41 of regulation with a lead crafted on 37-second fusillade of punches filled with malicious intent.

Instead, Patrick Kane responded with a stinging jab less than four minutes later to tie it. In the second overtime, Antoine Vermette, scratched in Game 3, countered Anaheim's brutality with a roundhouse of his own, holding onto the puck in the slot long enough until goalie Frederik Andersen committed and was not in position to snag his wrist shot.

The goal gave Chicago an improbable 5-4 victory and had the crowd cheering for the home team's toughness and resiliency. It also evened the best-of-7 series 2-2.

"My group finds ways," coach Joel Quenneville said with a tinge of amazement creeping into his tired voice. "It was one of those stretches where our guys find ways instead of looking for the out. It's an amazing group. Tonight is a good illustration of it."

The Blackhawks dominate the sporting scene in Chicago. A long time ago, boxing held that stage.

Among the fan favorites in the Windy City was a boxer named Tony Zale, who hailed from Gary, Ind. He was nicknamed the "Man of Steel," not only a nod to his roots in the nearby industrial city but a tribute to his ability to take a hellacious beating and keep moving forward. Many of his fights degenerated into Rocky Balboa slugfests with Zale and his opponent each on the canvas at least once.

Zale, a two-time middleweight champion, was defined by his trilogy of title fights with Rocky Graziano, a story arc that forged each other's legacy.

In the first fight, at Yankee Stadium in 1946, Zane absorbed a beating for six rounds and was on the verge of going down. But, in the seventh round, he caught Graziano with a shot to the solar plexus and a left hook to the chin. Graziano couldn't beat the 10-count and Zale improbably won.

The Blackhawks revisited that script Saturday.

They struck with an early punch at the end of the first when Brandon Saad scored on a shorthanded breakaway. Anaheim countered at the end of the second period with a deflection goal by Emerson Etem. Chicago landed the first combination when Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook scored exactly five minutes apart early in the third for a rare two-goal lead.

The Ducks were dazed, so they did what punchers do. They swung wildly and viciously, hoping to make contact. Three goals in 37 seconds was the stunningly savage result.

At 8:42, Ryan Kesler scored to stop Chicago's momentum. Twenty-three seconds later, Matt Beleskey picked a corner to put the Blackhawks on their heels. Fourteen seconds after that, Corey Perry appeared to put them down for the count.

Chicago refused to throw in the towel and answered the next bell with wobbly, yet determined, legs.

"What are you going to do, right?" said defenseman Duncan Keith, who was on the ice for two of the three goals against. "Obviously you don't want those things to happen, and it's frustrating, but we had nothing else to do but keep looking at the next shift."

It took Kane several shifts to answer the Perry goal. Crawford never allowed another, despite Chicago being outshot 17-5 in the first overtime.

"Obviously as goalies, you don't want that happening," Crawford said of the 1-2-3 sequence. "They scored three pretty quick ones. But we didn't give up. Showed great character in this one."

Chicago staggered and stumbled, was backed into a corner more than once, and got worked over against the ropes. But the Blackhawks fought on, refusing to concede they were overmatched or perhaps their time had come and gone against an opponent who seemed bigger and faster and intent on beating them down.

Vermette finally played the hero, his goal serving as Zale's famous left hook for this hockey game, the shot that finally KO'd the rampaging Ducks for the night.

Graziano won the rematch despite taking the worst of it. In the third fight, Zale reclaimed the title when Graziano was knocked cold in the third round.

The Ducks and the Blackhawks could meet three more times in this series. Starting with Game 5 at Honda Center on Monday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), there will be more devastating punches and heightened drama before the final bell.

"Both teams have a resolve and a resiliency that is as good as any," Blackhawks forward Brad Richards said.

Chicago hopes it can continue to follow Zale's example. Anaheim believes it can change the script.

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