CHICAGO – Brent Seabrook
has a knack for saying a lot with just a few words.
He also has a knack for saving his best for the Detroit Red Wings, whose season the Chicago Blackhawks defenseman ended on Wednesday night at United Center with a snap shot that found the back of the net 3:35 into overtime of Game 7 to conclude a classic Western Conference Semifinal series.
After collecting the puck in the neutral zone following Dave Bolland's big hit on Detroit's Gustav Nyquist, Seabrook skated the puck into the Red Wings zone and fired a hard shot from the high slot that skipped off the left skate of defenseman Niklas Kronwall. The puck knuckled in mid-air, Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard couldn't glove it -- and just like that, the series was over.
"I had some room," Seabrook said after scoring his first winning goal in 62 Stanley Cup Playoff games. "I didn't really know what was going on. I just tried to get the puck on net and change and it bounced [off the skate] and went in. Lucky."
It was such a surprising result that Seabrook didn't see his shot hit the back of the net. He did, however, hear the goal horn sound and looked over to see a throng of red-clad teammates coming to mob him in the corner.
Not long after that, he was in the handshake line giving Howard a pat on the back as Blackhawks fans continued their celebration in the stands.
Less than a week ago, Seabrook was in a very different setting.
He was in the midst of a rough start to this series, and his struggles were put under the microscope. After playing just 12:03 in Chicago's 2-0 loss in Game 4 at Joe Louis Arena that put Detroit up 3-1 in the series, Seabrook was surrounded at his locker stall the next day by TV cameras and microphones in the dressing room.
The last question he was asked was whether it had been a tough series for him personally to that point. Seabrook looked over and blurted out a one-word answer that seemed to speak volumes: "Yep."
Things started to change for him the very next day, in Game 5, when he was re-paired with friend and familiar defense partner Duncan Keith. They picked it right up like they'd never been split midseason and looked like the top defense pairing that helped the Blackhawks hoist the 2010 Stanley Cup.
Chicago rolled to a 4-1 victory in that game, then won Game 6 in Detroit to set up the dramatic OT win in the series finale. Asked after his huge goal how it felt for things to change so dramatically from a personal standpoint, in just a few days' time, Seabrook again kept his response short.
"I'm excited with the way it ended," he said bluntly, waiting for the next question.
That next question drew a longer response, but those seven words said a lot more about how far he'd come in the course of one Stanley Cup Playoff series.
"He's been around for a while now and he's a big leader of this team," Keith said. "He's able to move on. He's dealt with things over his career and he's a mature guy. I think he's able to handle things like that and come out on the good end of it. I think he's a great player and he's real fun to play with. It was nice to see him step up and make that play to get that Game 7 overtime winner."
Patrick Sharp, who scored Chicago's other goal on a tic-tac-toe passing play 1:08 into the second period, said he knew Seabrook would respond in the final three games.
"It's nice, [but] it's not surprising," Sharp said of Seabrook's 180-degree mid-series turnaround. "Stanley Cup winner, gold medal in the Olympics [and] he's a guy in the locker room everyone loves and he loves everyone else. He's one of the best team players I've ever played with and he just needed an opportunity to get back to playing the way he can play. He's been great the last three games."
Seabrook has also been a thorn in Detroit's side at key moments during the past couple of seasons.
He scored the game-winning goal to beat Detroit in this building the first time the teams met in the 2011-12 season less and was excellent in Game 5 of this series – picking up an assist and firing seven shots on goal.
Seabrook put two shots on net in Game 7, but the second one is all anybody will remember – erasing the bitter taste of a disallowed goal by teammate Niklas Hjalmarsson with 1:49 left in regulation.
"[Seabrook's] a great player," Bolland said. "I think half his goals come against the Detroit Red Wings and most have been OT ... I think if you get into OT against Detroit you should put [him] out there the whole time."