David Rundblad’s shot from just inside the blue line ticked off a prone Eric Nystrom, preventing Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne from gloving it properly. The puck skittered out to the low slot, where Bryan Bickell was in the right spot at the right time, flipping the puck past Rinne to tie the game with 73 seconds left Monday night and send the 22,208 fans at the United Center in a tizzy.
Bickell with the equalizer, with just more than a minute to go. Sound familiar?
“Kind of reminded me of that Boston goal,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
OK, slow down. While Bickell’s goal led to a thrilling 5-4 shootout victory for the Hawks, it wasn’t quite the same as the one that led to the Hawks winning the Stanley Cup in Game 6 against the Bruins in 2013. But the excitement level at the United Center and the sheer entertainment value of the game underscored the stakes in this one. As far as late-December games go, this was a pretty big one.
“There are certain games that stick out at the end of the year [as] a huge two points,” Quenneville said. “Tonight is probably leading in that category.”
After all, the Hawks erased a 3-0 deficit in seven minutes, then rallied again after quickly giving back the lead. They killed off a penalty with 5:40 to go, tied the game with 1:13 left and Corey Crawford pulled for an extra attacker, then won it with Jonathan Toews scoring the lone goal in the shootout.
Oh, and they did it against the league’s stingiest goaltender, Pekka Rinne, and against a Nashville team that’s hot on their heels for first place — one the Hawks won’t see again. At least, not in the regular season. It’s tough to assign too much significance to a game at this stage — the season’s not even halfway over, after all — but these four-point games between division rivals always loom large. A Predators regulation win would have forged a first-place tie (and Nashville has two games in hand). The Hawks win gave them a tiny bit of breathing room.
Good luck topping that one, Winter Classic.
“Two good teams going at it; just happy to get the win,” Bickell said. “In the long run, these points might come down to [deciding] first or second in the playoffs.”
It was a rare character test for the Hawks, who haven’t found themselves down big too often this season. That’s the bright side. The down side, as Duncan Keith was quick to point out, was another poor start, falling down 3-0 on goals by Roman Josi, Craig Smith and James Neal — the Neal one going in off Hawks defenseman Johnny Oduya.
“In a perfect world, you probably wouldn’t want to have that,” said Keith, who had three assists but said the narrative would have been a lot different had they lost in the ever-fickle shootout. “But at the end of the day, it’s those types of points that you can look back on and learn from. We’re never out of it until it’s over.”
It was a goal by Brad Richards, just after a power play expired midway through the second period, that started the rally. Andrew Shaw scored five minutes later, and Marian Hossa one-timed a Patrick Kane pass past Rinne for a power-play goal and a 3-3 tie two minutes after that.
It didn’t last, as a too-many-men penalty led to Neal’s second goal six seconds later in the final minute of the second period. But the Hawks kept pressuring Rinne, the league-leader in goals-against average coming into the game at 1.81, until Bickell finally broke through.
“It was pretty huge,” Shaw said. “The building was pretty loud there when we tied it up. It just shows our team’s got character.”