Blackhawks forced to overtime, find winning touch for 10th in row


EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Chicago Blackhawks looked disoriented. And who could blame them?

They awoke here in Edmonton yesterday morning in their eighth month of hockey and saw a spring snowstorm outside their hotel windows. Welcome to Alberta, where the only dependable season is the hockey calendar.

So when the Blackhawks shivered and shrugged through a poor opening period last night, the Edmonton Oilers appeared to have them on the run and out of their comfort zone. But the Blackhawks fooled them, warming to their task after falling behind 2-0 in the first period of the Campbell Conference final.

Give them a high-five for this 4-3 overtime victory. Give them two.

After all, this was their 10th straight victory, equaling a National Hockey League record playoff streak set 22 years ago by the Boston Bruins. If the Blackhawks can win Game 4 tomorrow night at the Northlands Coliseum and sweep the Oilers, they will be in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 19 years with a chance to win a championship for the first time since 1961.

"Isn't this unbelievable?" asked Jeremy Roenick, an amazing 22-year-old with nine playoff goals this year. "What a great feeling. Geez. What a great feeling."

Roenick scored 2:45 into overtime, taking a pass in mid-slot from the right side by defenseman Chris Chelios. The ding of the crossbar as Roenick's shot slammed past goalie Bill Ranford was the sound of the Blackhawks ringing up another sale in the cash register.

"Michel Goulet sent the puck around the net and when Chelios went to get it, I knew I had one Oiler behind me," Roenick said. "Just went off the bar and in."

Sounds nice and simple. But the Blackhawks had to slog through quicksand early to keep from sinking.

"We're sacrificing, we're staying level-headed," said center Brent Sutter. "We have a mission to accomplish."

A sweep of the Oilers would be the second series in a row that the Blackhawks have been unbeatable. They put away favored Detroit 4-0 in the Norris Division finals after winning three straight to eliminate St. Louis 4-2 in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Dead ahead is the winner of the Pittsburgh-Boston series in the Wales Conference final. The defending champion Penguins lead 2-0 there.

The Blackhawks are showing the steady hand of a champion. Down by two goals for the second straight game, they never faltered the way they often would in the regular season.

"If Edmonton scored to go ahead by three on their five-minute power play, the game may have been over," said Blackhawks wing Rob Brown, who played a key role in the comeback.

Instead, holding the Oilers scoreless on this major penalty on Jocelyn Lemieux for high-sticking Brian Glynn in the face late in the opening period was the end of a bad period for the Blackhawks and signaled their rise.

"The turning point of the game," coach Mike Keenan emphasized of the short-handed work. "It was so important."

The energy for a Chicago comeback in the second period was generated by the power play. Two of the Blackhawks' three goals in the period struck on the man advantage.

Brian Noonan scored first, putting in a rebound of a Roenick shot off Ranford. After a 13-shot first period, the Oilers' offense was back in the deep freeze, mustering two shots in the first 11 minutes of the middle period and two more in the final nine.

They finished with 24 shots and have been held under 10 shots in eight of the nine regulation periods with the Blackhawks.

Brown slapped a puck out of midair to tie the score 2-2 while Esa Tikkanen was in the penalty box for tripping. A pass by Goulet from the far left side came at Brown waist-high, and he batted the puck with the slender shaft of his stick.

"I saw it coming and had all kinds of time," Brown said. "Actually we were confident after playing a bad first period. We knew we still had 40 minutes to play like we can."

Goalie Ed Belfour stopped all but one of 16 shots at him after the Oilers' Bernie Nicholls and Craig MacTavish scored in the first 13 minutes. That included a crucial save on MacTavish with 1:02 left in regulation.

Glynn's shot into traffic in the third period tied the score at 3 with 12:47 left.

But perhaps the major difference was that Ranford gave up his only bad goal of the series with 1:11 left in the second period. Roenick, who was everywhere, won a faceoff in the right circle and Chelios moved middle on the blue line, where he unloaded for the go-ahead goal. Ranford totally misplayed it with a late right-leg kick, fanning with his stick as well as the puck beat him into the left of the net.

Even with his mask on, you knew Ranford's expression. His body told you he was baffled, just like the rest of his teammates.

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