Patrick Kane thrives in the biggest moments on the biggest stages

In the instant after Patrick Kane scored the biggest goal of his — or anybody’s — career, an overtime winner to secure the Blackhawks’ first Stanley Cup in 49 years, his momentous achievement was met with silence. The Philadelphia crowd didn’t react. Most of his teammates didn’t, either. And the man whom he juked with a couple of shoulder shimmies before firing the puck, Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen, continued to defend him, threatening to smear him along the end boards as Kane wheeled around the net in celebration.

But Kane knew his shot had slipped past goaltender Michael Leighton and lodged in the back of the net. So he went nuts. He flung his gloves in the air. He kicked his feet. He raced down the ice toward his goaltender, Antti Niemi. A few teammates joined in. Several others hopped the bench in confusion. Duncan Keith went and skated toward the referees to figure out if it was a goal.

They had no idea.

“I think that’s why I celebrated the way I did, where I just kind of went crazy and went down the ice,” Kane said. “But I’ve had bad dreams where you’re dreaming and you’re celebrating like that, but the puck didn’t actually go in.”

Patrick Kane celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the St. Louis Blues in overtime of Game 5 of the first-round series last April 21. (Getty Images)

With Kane, it’s usually a safe bet. And he’s lived the good version of that dream several times in his career. Jonathan Toews might be Captain Clutch, and Brent Seabrook is Mr. Big Shot. But when it really comes down to it, nobody thrives in the biggest moments on the biggest stages quite like Kane.

It was Kane who scored his first NHL hat trick in a series-clinching Game 6 victory over the Vancouver Canucks in 2009. It was Kane who scored a short-handed equalizer with 13.6 seconds left in Game 5 against the Nashville Predators in the first round of 2010, an improbable goal that might have changed the course of franchise history. It was Kane who scored the Cup-winner in 2010.

It was Kane who capped a hat trick with a double-overtime series-clincher against the Los Angeles Kings in the 2013 Western Conference final. He scored two goals, including the eventual game-winner, in the pivotal Game 5 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins. And the overtime winner in Game 4 against the St. Louis Blues in the first round in 2014. And the series-ending goal in overtime of Game 6 at Minnesota in 2014.

And the game-winning goal with 3:45 left in the third period against the Kings in Game 5 of the 2014 conference final. And the championship-sealing goal with 5:14 left in Game 6 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, giving the Hawks their first two-goal lead of the entire series. And the overtime winner against the Blues in Game 5 last spring.

Ten indelible moments. Five overtime winners. Three series-enders. One Cup-clincher.

No active player does it better. Only Joe Sakic (eight) and Maurice Richard (six) have more playoff overtime goals in NHL history than Kane, who is tied with Glenn Anderson with five.

And Kane is only 28 years old.

“He wants to be out there,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He wants the puck and he wants to be on the ice and he wants to be in those situations.”

Overtime in the Stanley Cup playoffs is fraught with unimaginable tension. Even the best players in the world feel the nerves. Players become more tentative, afraid of making the turnover that costs their team a game of such magnitude. They grip their sticks a little tighter.

But Kane still looks fluid, still plays aggressive, still is always going for the win. It might be overtime of Game 7, but Kane often looks like he’s playing the second period of a game in Ottawa in mid-January. Nothing changes. Not his game, not his stride, not his heart rate.

Kane can’t quite explain it. But he can feel it.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Sometimes I think about it, and it’s like when you’re in the intermission before overtime, you’re just kind of telling yourself this is an amazing opportunity and who knows how many opportunities you’ll ever get to do something like this.

“Patrick Sharp would tell me that guys were just so nervous and so worried in overtime, but I was so calm and relaxed with the puck that things would just open up for me. Sometimes, I’ve thought about that. You pride yourself in those situations. You want to step up. And when something special does happen, like scoring an overtime goal in the playoffs, there’s that rush of adrenaline that lasts for a long time. It’s pretty exciting.”

Opportunity has a lot to do with it, of course. He enters Game 1 on Thursday against the Predators with 123 playoff games under his belt. Only 15 active players have more, including Marian Hossa (201). The Hawks have played in a whopping 37 playoff games that have gone to overtime in the Kane and Toews era. And Quenneville is never shy about double-shifting the seemingly indefatigable Kane every chance he gets in the biggest moments.

But plenty of Hawks have had those same opportunities. It’s Kane who always seems to make the most of them.

“The big guys like that, they love having that pressure on their shoulders,” said Sharp, now in Dallas. “Kaner’s a guy who always wants to make that difference. He loves those moments. That’s one of the things that makes him such a great player.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

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