CHICAGO -- In the biggest game of the year for the Chicago Blackhawks, the team's stars put their fingerprints all over a season-saving victory Wednesday against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final at United Center.
But Chicago likely wouldn't have handed the Ducks their first regulation loss of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs without contributions by players that too often toil in anonymity.
It's true defenseman Duncan Keith had three assists in a game-defining span of 3:54 of the second period and finished with 28:35 of high-impact ice time. Yes, Patrick Kane had his own DVD of highlights alone on the goal that stood as the game-winner in a 5-2 victory. Jonathan Toews, the captain, was a monster all night and finished with a plus-2 rating and won 10 of 12 faceoffs.
The best of-7 series is tied with Game 7 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
Still, the game hung in the balance in the third period. Anaheim defenseman Clayton Stoner sent a rising slapper past Corey Crawford to turn a three-goal lead into a 3-2 game with more than 18 minutes to play.
Suddenly the Ducks were buzzing, cycling the puck with near impunity, playing the heavy forecheck game and keeping the Blackhawks pinned in their end for long stretches for more than 10 minutes of the period. As the period progressed, the Ducks looked more and more like the team which scored three goals in 37 seconds in Game 4 to erase a two-goal deficit.
Chicago iced the puck, but that didn't relieve the pressure. Coach Joel Quenneville called his timeout, but that didn't settle things. Crawford pounced on pucks to get whistles, but the Ducks regrouped and cranked up the pressure again.
"It was a tough stretch and we had some zone time against us and then you don't get the matchups and you're just putting whoever's fresh out there," Quenneville said of the chaos swirling around his team at that point. "At that stage, matchups aren't important: get the puck out, get the puck in deep, try to get a whistle to settle things down, get your timeout and get back to the rotation you're looking for."
Chicago's lower lines kept wading into that maelstrom, tasked with not making a mistake and keeping Anaheim at bay. Late in the period, as the United Center crowd held its collective breath, Antoine Vermette, who had replaced Marcus Kruger on a change, got the puck in his slot and threw it up the ice.
Forward Andrew Desjardins lumbered after it, the lactic acid building with each stride of a shift that was already extended because of the time spent in the defensive zone.
"Sometimes you get a break because they are pressing and have four guys up," said Desjardins, who admitted he had thought about changing on the backcheck earlier in the shift but did not want to put his team in a bad position. "Sometimes you get a break you need. The puck popped out and I just had to go with it"
Desjardins beat defenseman Simon Despres to the puck and shoveled it to Andrew Shaw, who shrugged off the backcheck of the taller and heavier Ducks forward Ryan Getlaf to roof a shot under the crossbar.
"It was a good moment when that goal went in," Desjardins said. "He pretty much did everything on that goal. A perfect shot, it doesn't get much better than that."
A one-goal game was now a two-goal game with less than four minutes remaining.
"Massive goal by Shawsy," Crawford said, smiling.
The Blackhawks weren't out of the woods yet, but they could exhale, as they again had a margin for error.
"It was great; it won us the hockey game," Quenneville said of the fourth goal and the defensive efforts that preceded it. "Everybody kept coming back and battling and blocking shots, and the battles along the walls. … There might've been 20 in the last, I don't know how many minutes, those battles along the walls, whether it's getting out or it's going back in our zone, so our guys did a great job."
The goal was a reward for the efforts of Desjardins and Shaw keeping the Ducks to the outside and forcing them to take lower-percentage shots than they would have liked.
"You play good in your own zone, those offensive chances are going to come," said Shaw, who also scored an empty-net goal in the final minute. "Playing with [Kruger] and Desi, it's huge. The chemistry we have is great. We know if we work hard in our defensive zone and get pucks out and get pucks in when we need to, we're going to get chances like that."
The ability of Shaw to bury that chance when it came, as well as the efforts by the other lower-line forwards proved to be the difference in the game and extended Chicago's season for three more nights.
"I don't think we can expect anything different in Game 7," Desjardins said. "We're going to have to work for every inch, be good with the puck and keep it moving forward."
The Chicago role players proved Wednesday that they are quite good at that game plan.