It is 1:16 on Wednesday morning, and the United Center is rocking. Brent Seabrook, who has done this sort of thing before, just scored exactly one minute into the third overtime to afford the Blackhawks an epic 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators and a 3-1 lead in this opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There were 22,014 in attendance for the late start, and maybe 14 were not still around for the really late conclusion, a blast by Seabrook with Patrick Kane assisting and Bryan Bickell hovering around Pekka Rinne, the vanquished goalie. His counterpart, Scott Darling, was excellent again, facing 52 pucks before he was named First Star of the Game. That allowed him a chance to thank the fans for hanging around.
Seabrook, a defenseman with a heavy shot, scored in overtime of Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings in the 2013 Western Conference Semifinal, a series that propelled the Blackhawks toward the Stanley Cup. About three weeks later, he punctuated sudden death again in Boston, the first of three straight triumphs that secured the team’s second Stanley Cup in four seasons.
Wednesday morning’s fun did not qualify as the longest game in franchise history. In 1931, Cy Wentworth scored at 53:50 in Montreal for a Blackhawks victory. But Wednesday morning’s outcome was hugely important, and worth the wait. The Blackhawks could close out the Predators in Nashville Thursday night. Short series are healthy in the playoffs.
Darling and Rinne actually seemed to improve with age, so to speak, as this marathon progressed. They were both good on Tuesday night, but stepped it up a notch come Wednesday morning. Rinne, a world-class goalie, even performed a bit of magic with about six minutes remaining in the first overtime. He made the puck disappear! Wardrobe malfunction! Officials frisked him without even asking for his boarding pass, and finally the puck was found hiding in his right pad.
Earlier, way earlier, the Blackhawks embarked on a power play because Gabriel Bourque tossed his stick at Kane. If you can’t catch Kane, maybe your stick can. The Blackhawks failed to capitalize, but about five minutes later, Brandon Saad achieved a 2-2 situation midway through the third period with a rocket from point-blank range as the Predators mysteriously parted, providing him a lane to fire.
The other Blackhawk goal was registered by Antoine Vermette, his first since he was acquired at the trade deadline. Vermette did manage the only tally in a 2-1 shootout triumph over the Edmonton Oilers, but that was on March 6. Since then, however, he has played center or wing or not at all. Friends who thought he’d been shipped to Chicago wondered whether he had been forwarded on to the French Foreign Legion. Vermette did not dress for the first two tilts in Nashville, quite a culture shock for an iron man who closed the regular season with a string of 475 consecutive games.
That screaming-room only crowd deserved bonus hockey Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Once again, the Blackhawks did not have to fret about too many Nashville fans entering the building. The only Predators sweaters were being worn by the Predators.
One addition to their injury-ravaged roster was Kevin Fiala, a cherubic-looking draftee who could pass for your newspaper delivery boy. He’s only 18, and by 1:16 Wednesday morning, really should have been in bed.