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Verdi: Series doesn’t deserve to end yet

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

Is it too much of a partisan call to say this series didn’t deserve to end yet? These are two of the best five or six teams in the National Hockey League, after all. Bad enough that one of them will be gone soon, as will at least another powerhouse from California, maybe two.

So the Blackhawks play on, still defending their Stanley Cup championship, at whatever hour. Just a bit after midnight, minutes into Friday morning, a star came out, shining brightly. Patrick Kane zigged, tapped the puck on goal, zagged, buttonhooked around the net and backhanded the winner.

Blackhawks 4, St. Louis Blues 3 at 3:07 of the second overtime. The Blues still lead this theatrical First Round playoff series, 3-2, but if the Blackhawks don’t have the Blues thinking now, the Blackhawks have the Blues traveling. The Blues would have loved to cancel those hotel rooms in Chicago, but Game 6 is necessary, and it will occur at the United Center Saturday evening.

“I wasn’t very good for the first four periods,” decided Kane, who has built quite the postseason scrapbook. This was his fifth overtime winner, and it relegated to a sidebar the concerning fact that the Blackhawks again dissipated a third period lead as the tenacious Blues dearly tried to dethrone the incumbents before a raucous gathering at the Scottrade Center.

“It was frustrating, what happened there,” Kane went on. “But it was good that we got to come in [the locker room] after regulation and regroup. That’s a good hockey team over there, and it will be exciting to bring this series back into our building.”

Kane’s goal was the 49th of his postseason career, and it came on only his second shot of the extended evening, according to the official statistical breakdown. Almost four hours before he finished this thriller, Kane started with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik as Head Coach Joel Quenneville retooled forward lines. He was looking for balance, an ingredient made even more elusive with the absence of Andrew Shaw.

The two Russians stayed together ­– with Teuvo Teravainen in for Kane – and that worked. Artemi Panarin ripped a shot past Brian Elliott with just 0.4 seconds left in the second period, and that afforded the visitors a 3-1 bulge. Panarin did much of the choreography on the go-ahead goal too. He jettisoned from Elliott’s right and the puck seeped through the goalie, not unlike it did the other night at the United Center.

In Game 4, Elliott reached behind and gloved the puck as it settled on the goal line. Artem Anisimov, after two whacks, was the victim then. Here he had more space, and he jammed the puck in to provide the Blackhawks their second lead of the night.

The first came with the Blackhawks shorthanded. Marian Hossa beat Elliott from the right circle. But on the same penalty, Jaden Schwartz solved Corey Crawford, who had been so sharp to that point but might have been a bit deep in the net on the shot. That made it 1-1.

That third period was hair raising. Robby Fabbri made a deft move toward open ice to halve the St. Louis problem. Then, at 14:50, David Backes redirected a drive by Alex Pietrangelo, the puck finding the net after Crawford vacated the space while playing the original trajectory. The Blackhawks looked vulnerable. Quenneville called a time out. Then about a minute later, they were nailed with a penalty for too many men on the ice!

The end of Game 5 was infinitely more frantic than the beginning, a careful, infraction-free first period. Panik had the best look at Elliott over 20 minutes, but missed the net.

Earlier, Patrik Berglund rifled a puck that hit Crawford in the mask. The protective headgear, which stays in place with two snaps on either side, came loose and fell off. As if Crawford needed that. He was just fine, facing 46 shots, 12 in sudden death.

As they were unveiled during Thursday morning’s skate, with Kane moving beside Toews, and Teravainen joining Anisimov and Panarin, Hossa linked up with Marcus Kruger and Andrew Ladd. A fourth line consisted of Andrew Desjardins, Brandon Mashinter and Dale Weise. Scratches included Tomas Fleischmann, Michal Rozsival and Viktor Svedberg. David Rundblad dressed, but toiled fewer than seven minutes.

Duncan Keith played 42, and appeared fresh as a new moon when the Blackhawks, still alive and still defending, arrived home just before 3 a.m.

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