If ever a series deserved a Game 7 for artistic merit, it is the series that was justly extended Wednesday night at the United Center to be continued and resolved Saturday night in Southern California.
Unless, of course, Sunday morning is brought into the equation. Puck drop shall be early out there, shortly after 5 p.m., but if you’ve been watching the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks, a conclusion so rousing that it dwarfs all the preambles feels feasible.
Prompted by a perpetual and deafening din, the Blackhawks rewarded 22,089 fans in the building – and hockey enthusiasts everywhere – by claiming a 5-2 triumph in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final. Bryan Bickell, who threw his body around a bit, called it “our Game 7.”
The most recent Game 7 for the Blackhawks was the “toughest loss of our lives,” according to Head Coach Joel Quenneville. He was referring to last June’s overtime shocker here that ended on a bizarre bounce, propelling the Los Angeles Kings toward their Stanley Cup.
The Ducks aren’t exactly on a roll in do-or-die assignments, either. They’ve lost their last three Game 7s: to the Kings at Honda Center a year ago, to the Detroit Red Wings at home in 2013 and at Detroit in 2009. In each of those first two series, the Ducks had a 3-2 lead in games before falling.
Anaheim came prepared to clinch Thursday night, a scenario that gained traction after a scoreless first period – all the visitors could have asked. But then, in the less than four minutes, Duncan Keith arranged three goals for three different teammates during the middle session. He also saved a goal later, when the Ducks were on a powerplay and trailing only 3-2.
Keith, the longest-tenured Blackhawk, remembers arriving in Chicago when the franchise and sport were in remission. He sat in the stands during a couple exhibition games with seats to spare. Now, the two-time Norris Trophy winner is 31, logging not only monster minutes but with legs constantly moving. Almost like, well, a duck in water.
“Kind of a freak,” noted Quenneville, reaching for words like “genetically” and “aerobically” to portray his world-class defenseman. Keith explained that he’s always been a little smaller than the average, so by being a complete and absolute madman with conditioning, he attempts to even the playing field.
Keith had his face against the glass, having been checked, when he wheeled to generate the first goal. He found Patrick Kane, who nudged it to Brandon Saad, and the man-child broke from the red line with sprinter’s strides. He finished his rush by ripping a shot past Frederik Andersen for a 1-0 lead.
Just over two minutes later, Keith gathered the puck atop the left circle, waited, waited and waited some more. As the Ducks veered toward him, Keith pushed the puck to Marian Hossa on the right. He had a lot of twine to look at as Andersen and Cam Fowler were zigging thataway. Chicago, 2-0.
Kane, skating a whole lot with Jonathan Toews, boosted the bounty to 3-0 by dancing through the slot area and squeezing the puck through Andersen. Kane’s shake-and-bake fake did Matt Beleskey no favors. Keith received the only assist, but Toews was on the ice. “He’s the easiest guy in the league to play with,” praised Kane of the captain. “Keith? A freak.”
Because the Ducks also possess a relentless nature, they closed to within 3-2. Quenneville called for a timeout in the third period when Anaheim was firing away at Corey Crawford. Another overtime loomed, at least until Andrew Shaw, with Andrew Desjardins feeding, lifted a shot over Andersen at 16:28. Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks captain, was clinging to the tiny Shaw like a cheap suit, to no avail.
“I was terrible,” announced Getzlaf. Shaw later scored on the empty net, vacated by Andersen, who at least started strong enough to allay any Anaheim apprehensions that he would be scarred by permitting two squishy goals in Game 5. He had the glove working, as seen on a number of shots, including one by David Rundblad, who replaced Kimmo Timonen. Andersen also had help. The Ducks, and not just their defensemen, continued to block shots as if they don’t leave bruises. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks romped at the dots, winning two-thirds of the faceoffs.
According to Quenneville, Keith eats a lot, exercises a lot, sweats a lot and rests a lot. Unlike the era when he could walk around the United Center with his jersey on and still feel anonymous, Keith also wins a lot. He indicated that he probably will not feel tired for Game 7 Saturday night. Indeed, a few of his fellow Blackhawks say they have never seen him yawn.