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Verdi: Only one game, but felt like two

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

ANAHEIM – As Joel Quenneville ambled toward his team’s bus at just about the witching hour, he turned to someone nearby.

“Have you ever seen anything like that?” mused Coach Q. “That is the most intense game I have ever seen or been a part of. Absolutely amazing.”

He can say that again and no doubt will, from now until he enters the Hall of Fame. In an epic doubleheader for the ages, but certainly not for the aged, the Blackhawks squared the Western Conference Final at one victory each by outlasting the Anaheim Ducks, 3-2, in triple overtime Tuesday night here, and Wednesday morning in Chicago.

Marcus Kruger, praised as a “warrior” by his boss, raised his Q rating even higher by notching the winner at 16:12 of the sixth period to conclude the mother of all endurance tests in franchise history. Cy Wentworth scored at 53:50 of sudden death in Montreal on April 9, 1931, for a 3-2 conquest by the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final.

No, your groggy historian did not attend said contest. But a safe hunch would be that it did not pack the pace, the theatrics, the drama of what transpired at the Honda Center. Now you know again why you never see a fat hockey player. We’ve mentioned that before, but after this display by both sides, the statement could be in capital letters, underlined and punctuated by an exclamation point.

Kruger, who rarely puts forth even a bad shift, recalled seeing the pass work move from “D to D.” That is, from Johnny Oduya to Brent Seabrook. Kruger then lost sight of the puck, but when Seabrook fired from the right, it grazed Kruger’s glove as he was positioned down low. He then patiently brought his stick into play and poked it past Frederik Andersen, who was sensational for Anaheim, if not quite in counterpart Corey Crawford’s league for histrionics.

“Pretty good hockey game,” deadpanned the Blackhawks’ netminder, who surrendered a Corey Perry redirect that tied matters 2-2 at 17:30 of the middle period, then closed up shop on the Ducks. Crawford recorded a career high 60 saves and justly earned the championship belt from his mates. But since Crawford received that hardware after he finished off a sweep of the Minnesota Wild, it is protocol that he bestow the honor on someone else. Thus, Crawford relayed it to Kruger for finally letting everybody take a shower.

Indeed, this was one way to eat up that 10-day interlude following the last series. Crawford did not have the luxury of a breather, instead occupying a spot that afforded him to marvel at how sharp lodge brothers performed before him, regardless of the extenuating circumstances. Nothing surprised Crawford, including smallish Andrew Shaw drilling massive Ryan Getzlaf with a body check earlier in the third overtime. That’s what the Blackhawks do.

In the first overtime, the Ducks hit a post and a crossbar, Crawford lost his stick on one Anaheim push, and the Blackhawks’ penalty killers smothered a fifth straight power play despite the absence of Niklas Hjalmarsson, to whom the tripping infraction was assessed.

In the second overtime, Perry hit metal, then was cold-stoned by Crawford. This happened after Shaw helmet-butted a puck past Andersen, who refused to leave his domain until officials looked things over and ruled that Shaw had borrowed from another sport.

“Everyone tells you to use your head out there… I tried to sell it,” quipped Shaw, who opened the scoring on a power play earlier. Way earlier. (Marian Hossa, on the next power play, made it 2-0.) Shaw’s soccer crossover unfolded after Anaheim was penalized for too many men. The Blackhawks had one of those in the third period, when it was still Tuesday in Chicago.

As was the case for Sunday’s commencement, a smattering of Blackhawks fans in uniform were around the building. They weren’t residing in the cheap seats, either. Most of the smattering was around the bench and ramp from the dressing room. Unlike some other venues, however, the Chicago contingent was seriously outnumbered by thousands of Ducksters wearing orange. The location of the suite bearing visiting executives, including President and CEO John McDonough on his birthday, stuck out. It was the only area in the entire rink where orange towels were not draped over the back. Even Teemu Selanne, the Ducks’ retired legend, wore an orange sportcoat. Why, take a close look at Andersen. He’s orange too.

When Michal Rozsival went down and out against the Minnesota Wild, the Blackhawks called on David Rundblad, in part because he is a right-handed shot. Rundblad had a difficult Game 1 here Sunday. He was cross-checked prior to the Ducks’ first goal, and again was culpable on their second goal.

Rundblad said he was not “quick enough or hard enough” and also somewhat jumpy. So, Quenneville replaced Rundblad with Kyle Cumiskey, who once belonged to the Anaheim organization and has some playoff experience with the Colorado Avalanche. Cumiskey’s assignment, as per Coach Q: use your speed. The young man most surely felt rested. His last game action with the Blackhawks was Feb. 27 in Tampa Bay.

But even with Cumiskey and Kimmo Timmonen partaking, the fab four whom Anaheim bumped regularly bounced up for more. Duncan Keith played 49 minutes, 51 seconds. Seabrook, 47:46. Hjalmarsson, 47:35. Oduya, 46:06. After the Game 1 triple OT against the Predators, Seabrook cited trainers for keeping the athletes supplied with “fruit and crap.” There must have been multiple helpings during this night of staggering arithmetic.

The Blackhawks jettisoned 56 shots to Anaheim’s 62. The Ducks issued 71 hits, Chicago 45. Anaheim blocked 35 pucks, Blackhawks 29. There were 112 faceoffs. But 3-2 is what counted, and as the visitors departed, not a single spiffy sports car belonging to the Ducks had left the parking lot. They waited a long time to lose at home during this postseason, but this had to be excruciating.

It’s only one game, but it felt like two.

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