This was craziness. Just plain craziness.
It all seemed to be falling apart for the Blackhawks at the United Center late Wednesday night. Corey Crawford had given up the dreaded “soft’’ goal, a third-period wrist shot that he had tracked off the stick of St. Louis forward Vladimir Tarasenko and still missed. The Blues were ahead 3-2, having scored three unanswered goals from late in the second period on.
You could almost hear the sound of the Hawks on their heels, the sound of skates on ice, the sound of retreat. They were in serious danger of losing Game 4 to the Blues, which meant they were in serious danger of going back to St. Louis down 3-1 in this best-of-seven series.
If you believe in momentum, the Blues had it. If you don’t believe in it, the Blues had it anyway.
But then Bryan Bickell, camped out in front of the St. Louis net, deflected Michal Rozsival’s shot past Ryan Miller with three minutes, 52 seconds left in the third. Tie game. It was Bickell, the star of last year’s playoffs for the Hawks, finally making an appearance at the perfect time.
And, of course, overtime. Because that’s what these two teams do.
And then, because these are the Hawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions, and because they don’t ever give up, Patrick Kane rifled a wrist shot past Miller to give the Hawks a 4-3 overtime victory.
Because it’s the hunt for the Cup again.
Kane had skated in down the left side, waited for space, waited some more, and then buried a shot 11:17 into overtime, a shot that made sure of one thing:
This is a series now.
I’m not sure everyone completely believed that around the town Wednesday afternoon. I’m not sure anyone believed it as the clock wound toward midnight either.
Crawford had picked a very bad time to allow his critics to say, “See?’’ He’s a good goalie. He was not a good goalie on Wednesday night. He gave up goals that should have been stopped, goals that would have been stopped by lesser goalies.
He gave up two soft goals, none softer than the second one, a wrist shot by Tarasenko that Crawford saw unimpeded by any Blues or Blackhawks.
But Crawford played well enough in overtime, and Kane made sure that most of the goalie’s transgressions were pushed into the background.
“He’s the most dangerous player in the league,’’ Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Kane afterward.
Now the Hawks will need Crawford best for Game 5 Friday in St. Louis. Expect a bounce-back game for him.
It will be hard to top Game 4 for sheer energy. It was wild, frenetic hockey, with both teams roaring up and down the ice knowing how much was at stake: just about everything.
It started out well for the Hawks, with second-period goals by Andrew Shaw and Kane.
Shaw was doing what he usually does, fighting for territory in front of the net with no concern for his own personal wellbeing. This time, the man in his way on the power play was Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. But Shaw danced and jostled and finally worked his way into position between Bouwmeester and Miller. When Jonathan Toews’ shot skittered near the goalmouth, Shaw was able to get a stick on the puck and direct it into the net.
Johnny Oduya made a beautiful pass across the ice to a streaking Kane, who one-timed it to beat Miller and stretch the lead to 2-0.
That’s the Hawks team we know. So all was good in their world, right?
Wrong. It hasn’t been all good for this team at any point in this series. Just like that, the Blues came back when Crawford gave up a weak goal to Tarasenko on a power play with one minute, nine seconds left in the second. It was the worst kind of goal at the worst time. The Hawks had been thinking “blowout,’’ and now they were being fed a diet of “Oh, yeah?’’
The idea that the Blues would go quietly was a silly one, and it was made even sillier by a complete defensive breakdown at the end of the period. The Hawks couldn’t get the puck out while Crawford was under heavy pressure, and the result was a Maxim LaPierre goal with four seconds left in the period. Tie game.
What’s wrong with these Hawks? Other than the fact that they can’t figure out a way to win a game easily, nothing.
The series is tied 2-2 heading to St. Louis, and the Hawks are very much alive.
“You can’t say enough about how competitive it’s been for four games – the battles, the resiliency and the will,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was a huge win for us and got us back to even. We’ve got the momentum. Let’s go in there and sustain it.’’