No way the Chicago Blackhawks wanted to end the season like this, humbled at home and dethroned by the would-be Kings in front of friends and relatives.
Not here. Not now.
So when the Blackhawks came out Wednesday night for the third period of Game 5 at the United Center trailing 4-3, they did so with passion and purpose that had been missing too often during this series. They came out flying around furiously, intent on making something happen other than the ending everybody in the building but the Kings feared. They attacked like a team with something to protect, finally. They tapped into their pride and fought to give themselves a fighting chance.
Ben Smith epitomized that approach, responding to a Brandon Saad rebound with a goal 1 minute 17 seconds into the third that tied the score 4-4 and pumped life back into a building — and perhaps a season.
Michal Handzus made it matter at the 2:04 mark in the second overtime by backhanding a pretty pass from Saad for a 5-4 victory that revitalized the Blackhawks' chances to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
“Saader gave me a great pass,” Handzus said.
He did the rest, saving a day that looked lost at the 13:08 mark of the second period.
On the Kings' go-ahead goal that scared Chicago with thoughts of a hockey-less June, Tanner Pearson beat Corey Crawford badly from the right circle on a feed from Jeff Carter. You can blame many of the Kings' goals this series on the defense in front of Crawford, but this one, one that hurt as deeply as any, was all on the beleaguered goalie. As great as Crawford was in both overtimes, an extra session would have been unnecessary if not for the soft fourth goal he gave up on the Kings' 25th shot.
Crawford clearly hasn't been the same goaltender who shut up Minnesota Wild fans in St. Paul and shut down the Blues in St. Louis. This was a goalie opening himself up again to criticism around town — not the kind from the goof from Los Angeles who complained to police that Crawford sprayed him in the eye with water during Game 4 at Staples Center. That daylong distraction — courtesy of TMZ — was unfair to Crawford. But it had nothing to do with giving up a fourth goal that was unacceptable.
A long night began as well as it ended for Chicago.
Brent Seabrook started a wild first period by scoring 73 seconds into the game on a wicked wrist shot from the blue line that buzzed by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who was screened by Andrew Shaw. The crowd of 21,871 erupted.
Just over two minutes later, the Blackhawks built more confidence when Johnny Oduya cleaned up a rebound off a Patrick Kane shot from the right slot. Kane, contained in the first four games of the series, created the opening, controlled the puck and finally fired a wrister before Oduya did the rest. When Kane uses his imagination to complement his ability like that, the Blackhawks are a different team — the team that has spoiled everyone.
They resembled that team again after the Kings cut the lead in half and Kane, of all people, responded with a show of relentlessness. Kane aggressively back-checked Kings tough guy Willie Mitchell, and the puck ended up on Saad's stick. Saad set up Shaw with a nifty pass and was there to knock in the rebound for the Blackhawks' third goal in the opening 11:06.
Obviously, the onslaught motivated Quick. About two minutes later, he denied Jonathan Toews with a terrific save on an opportunity the captain will regret later when viewing videotape — especially considering the Kings converted the stop into a three-on-two scoring play when Marian Gaborik tapped in Anze Kopitar's pass. Like Quick's save on Seabrook in Game 2, this one sparked the Kings.
They nearly tied it on the power play at the end of the first, thanks to a regrettable penalty by Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Hammer didn't use his head, throwing a stick down the ice to earn two minutes in the penalty box.
Speaking of carelessness, two turnovers by confounding Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg helped the Kings even things up at 3-3 at the 11:08 mark of the second when Dustin Brown capitalized on the mistakes with a dirty goal. When Brandon Bollig swung his stick against the glass in frustration, he spoke for an entire hockey city.
“I don't think Kris Versteeg is going to see the ice for the rest of the night,” analyst Troy Murray said on WGN-AM after that sequence.
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