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Blackhawks rally, top Canadiens in overtime

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks finally found a way in overtime Wednesday night.

Prior to Patrick Sharp scoring a game-winning goal 43 seconds into the extra period at United Center to beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2, the defending Stanley Cup champions hadn't scored a goal in overtime in 21 games.

All six of Chicago's previous victories that lasted longer than regulation had ended in a shootout. It doesn't seem possible, considering the wealth of talent on the Blackhawks' roster, but that was the case.

"Well, I think we were due," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "It was the first time all year we've scored an overtime goal in [22] games, [22] opportunities. [We're] a pretty good team offensively, but to take this long to get one is certainly a relief and a huge two points for us. A nice comeback as well."

Sharp and Marian Hossa spearheaded the effort in the waning moments of the third period. Trailing 2-1 with less than a minute left, Quenneville used his timeout to set up a play with the Blackhawks' net vacated.

After play resumed, Michal Handzus won a faceoff and then dug the puck out of the corner. He slid a pass behind the net to Sharp, who quickly sent a feed to Hossa in front for a redirected shot that slid underneath Canadiens goalie Peter Budaj (25 saves) with 47.7 seconds left in regulation.

That sent it to overtime, when Sharp quickly ended it with a fortunate break off a shot from the low slot. After Duncan Keith slid him a pass, Sharp shot a low wrister that kicked up off Budaj's right pad and flipped end-over-end behind him. Budaj reached back with his goal stick, but knocked the puck into the net instead of behind it.

Just like that, the Blackhawks' slim odds of finishing second in the Central Division in the Stanley Cup Playoff race were still alive. Chicago (107 points) still needs help to pass the Colorado Avalanche (109) for home-ice advantage in the Western Conference First Round, but the fact they're not locked into third yet was something to feel good about.

A four-game winning streak wasn't bad either.

"The numbers show that we can still do it, so that's what we're playing for," Sharp said. "We'd love to play at the United Center [to start the first round], but when Game 82 is over, we'll take the next challenge whatever it may be."

Chicago finished its home slate 27-7-7 and will conclude the regular season on the road at the Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators this weekend.

The Blackhawks' current challenge is to keep winning without captain Jonathan Toews (upper-body injury) and right wing Patrick Kane (lower body). In the previous three victories, it was a collection of new faces leading the charge.

Forward Jeremy Morin scored again, his third straight contest with a goal, but this time it was the core group of veterans leading the way at the end, Sharp in particular. The Blackhawks alternate captain has also scored a goal in three straight games and has at least a point in three of the four games since Toews joined Kane on the sidelines.

"I like [the] responsibility he's shown," Quenneville said of Sharp. "I thought in a game like this, he took charge at the end. I think [he's] stepped up to the plate here and responded in the right fashion."

Had they lost, the Blackhawks (45-20-15) would've been assured of finishing third in the Central behind the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues.

Dale Weise and Francis Bouillon scored in regulation for the Canadiens, who have been assured of a first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"We were in a position to get two points, but I really liked the way we played," Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. "I thought we played a solid game. On the last two goals, it was some bad coverage in front of the net. I'm sure on the last goal, the winning goal, [Budaj] certainly would like to see that shot again, but those things happen. In general, I really liked the way we played. This is not an easy place to play, but our effort was there again."

After two scoreless periods, Weise scored 7:31 into the third with his sixth goal and 16th point in his 59th game. He was originally going to be a healthy scratch, but Canadiens center Lars Eller sat out with an illness.

Weise swatted the puck into a wide opening of the net for a 1-0 lead after a shot by Josh Gorges, playing for the first time following a 15-game absence for a hand injury, was blocked right to him off Brent Seabrook's leg.

"We did a lot of good things out there," Gorges said. "We lost focus a couple of shifts, where we made some mistakes and lost some coverage and that's the difference. That just shows how quick a game can turn. I think we can learn a lot from this game because we played a good game, but good is not always good enough."

Morin scored 3:03 later to tie it 1-1, before Bouillon put Montreal back up, 2-1, at 10:56. Twenty-two seconds after Morin brought the crowd to its feet, Bouillon fired a shot from the left point that sailed through traffic and beat Corey Crawford (28 saves) past the blocker side.

Chicago had some good chances to tie it again, but couldn't sneak one past Budaj until Sharp and Hossa (one goal, one assist) teamed up 11 seconds after the timeout.

Montreal lost top-six forward Alex Galchenyuk after two shifts in the first period and he was spotted leaving the building on crutches. Galchenyuk, who sustained a lower-body injury, took a hit into the boards near the Montreal bench from Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw less than 30 seconds into the game and also had Hossa fall awkwardly into his left leg to start his second shift.

After that turn on the ice, he headed to the dressing room and didn't return. Watching the game from Montreal were the top defense pairing, Alexei Emelin and Andrei Markov, plus top goalie Carey Price, who rested in anticipation of the playoffs next week.

Despite missing so many parts, Montreal outplayed the Blackhawks in the first 10 minutes of the game. Chicago eventually turned the tables through the second half of the scoreless first and neither team dominated the second.

All the goals were scored in the third and overtime, which led to a pulsating finish.

"Those last eight minutes were unbelievable," Crawford said. "We were buzzing around and it just felt like we were going to score there. It was a great finish to the game. That’s the way we have to play."

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