Patrick Kane went forehand. Then backhand. Then top shelf.
Hello, Western Conference final.
Kane launched the Blackhawks into their fourth conference final in the last six seasons with a sweet and completely expected overtime game-winner.
Completely expected because that’s what Kane does in these kinds of moments. In seven potential clinching Game 6s since 2009, Kane now has 11 goals, three of them game-winners, meaning he has ended almost half of the matches with some kind of sudden brilliance.
Indeed, the Hawks have no more dramatic player than Kane.
They had no better player in Game 6, however, than Corey Crawford.
Without Crawford, Kane never would’ve had a chance to be a hero. In fact, we might’ve seen the first Stanley Cup playoff game with a running clock.
Crawford stopped 34 of 35 shots, and he was under such a siege that you wondered what he’d done on the flight to Minnesota that was so bad that his teammates abandoned him.
It didn’t start out that way. In fact, it started out lucky for the Hawks when Kris Versteeg banked a puck past Bryzgalov from below the goal line less than two minutes after the opening faceoff.
The Hawks carried the play for most of the first 10 minutes, and then, pffft.
It was all Wild the rest of the first period.
It was all Wild in the second period.
It was all Wild in the third period.
Remarkably, stunningly, this mess the Hawks allowed went into overtime, and only because of Crawford.
What save did you like best? His stop on Mikael Granlund short side in the first period?
You get the idea. This was a goalie win by a goalie about whom some people still wonder he can win a Cup even though he already has.
Even though he just closed this series by allowing only two goals in the last two games.
Even though he’s the only visiting goalie to win in Minnesota this postseason.
You know those numbers I cited earlier about Kane’s clutch histrionics? Well, Crawford has some of his own, such as a convincing 6-1 record and gaudy .950 save percentage in potential clinching games.
The Hawks needed every bit of their goaltender in Game 6 because they had nothing that looked like a puck possession game.
The Hawks could not make a pass, and if they did, they couldn’t catch it, and if they did, they couldn’t do anything with it. This was some lame hockey. It was bad enough to get them beat and force a Game 7, except for Crawford.
This has now become a disturbing road trend. The first two games in St. Louis and all three in Minnesota smacked of bad, sloppy and/or uneven play, you pick it.
The Hawks have won just two of their six road games this postseason, and while they were the two games that ended the home season for their opponents, the Hawks have to be better than that. They have to dictate the pace and terms of play, and they have to be smarter on the road.
The first two games in St. Louis were all kinds of stupid, starting with Brent Seabrook’s suspendable hit on David Backes. Expecting a brutal series, the Hawks wanted to be the ones who lashed out first. Took them a week to wise up. Took them a week to remember that wasn’t their game.
The first two games in Minnesota were a pile of stubbornness against whatever version of the trap the Wild were playing. The Hawks believed they could stickhandle through anything, even 1-on-5, but no, they couldn’t, and here come the Wild on yet another rush. Finally, the Hawks played a dump-and-chase game that loosened up the disciplined Wild in a Game 5 win. In Game 6, the Hawks had the better goalie and the luckier moment.
They will take all of it, of course. They will take whatever invitation there is when it comes to the conference final. But they need to play better on the road -- smarter -- especially when they’re in the unusual position of perhaps not having home-ice advantage in either of the next two rounds.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun