ANAHEIM, Calif. — The game ended at least a dozen times — a post here, a crossbar there, a padded shoulder here, a gloved fingertip there. Sami Vatanen rang one off the crossbar at one end in overtime, then rang one off the crossbar at the other end in the second overtime. Corey Perry drew iron, too, was turned aside point-blank by Corey Crawford, and fired wide from the doorstep. Patrick Kane was robbed. Antoine Vermette was stuffed. Andrew Shaw was denied. Bryan Bickell was stopped, but, oh, just barely.
After each chance, the clock kept ticking — overtime bleeding into a second overtime; a second overtime bleeding into a third overtime; a third overtime bleeding into history.
Then there was the time the game actually did end — for a few giddy moments, for about half the Blackhawks, at least, who didn’t know the rulebook inside and out — when Shaw actually headed the puck past Frederik Andersen, soccer-style. Marcus Kruger thought it was over. Patrick Sharp knew better.
“I know it’s in the rule book, but that’s a pretty athletic play,” Sharp said. “And a pretty entertaining play, as well.”
“Pretty entertaining” doesn’t begin to describe this one. Pretty uplifting for the Hawks, though. Pretty devastating for the Anaheim Ducks, no doubt. Pretty memorable, that’s for sure. Kruger knocked in a shot from the point from Brent Seabrook — of course, it was Seabrook — at 16:12 of the third overtime to give the Hawks a 3-2 win in the longest game in franchise history.
Crawford made 60 saves, a career-high in a virtuoso effort. Duncan Keith played nine seconds shy of 50 minutes, also a career-high. Frederik Andersen made 53 saves for the Ducks, marvelous in his own right. The Hawks withstood 71 hits, attempted 115 shots, took 112 faceoffs, and dodged countless bullets, all to even the Western Conference final at 1-1. Game 3 is Thursday at the United Center, if any of these guys have the legs to make it through warmups.
“It’s mostly relief,” said defenseman Johnny Oduya, who played 46:06. “You’re happy, but we know, too, it’s one game. This was almost two games, but it only counts as one.”
It was a historic game for the Hawks, but only barely. It was the Hawks’ fourth triple-overtime game in the past three postseasons, and their second in the past month. They know the drill — take off your skates at intermission to mitigate the soreness, eat fruit and grab a snack, drink plenty of water, stretch as much as you can. And more than anything, don’t get too caught up in the drama and the tension — the excruciating, agonizing, beautiful tension.
“Eat, drink, stay mentally focused more than anything,” Sharp said. “I think that’s the toughest thing. You’re thinking about the game all day, and end up playing for four, five, six hours. It wears on you. We’ve got a veteran group that’s been down that path before, and thankfully we came away with a win.”
As just about everyone in both dressing rooms pointed out, it’s just one game, even if it does mean the Hawks have seized home-ice advantage in the series. But the question is how the Ducks respond. After falling behind 2-0 early on a pair of power-play goals by Shaw and Marian Hossa, Anaheim ratcheted up the forecheck and ran rampant on the Hawks for the better part of regulation. They targeted and abused 40-year-old Kimmo Timonen, forcing Joel Quenneville to lean even harder on his top four defensemen, and rallied to tie the game on goals by Andrew Cogliano midway through the first period and Perry late in the second.
But the Ducks couldn’t get one last puck past Crawford, the one that could have given them a commanding 2-0 lead in the series and forced the Hawks to have to win four of five to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Anaheim had the game on its stick so many times in the overtimes. But every time, a post got in the way. Or Crawford made a spectacular save. Or the puck skittered just wide.
The Hawks are renowned for their mental toughness, and their ability to put any loss behind them. Or any disallowed goal behind them, for that matter. They won in overtime of Game 7 against Detroit in 2013 when Niklas Hjalmarsson’s goal was disallowed. They beat the Kings in Game 1 last spring when Jonathan Toews had a goal waved off. And they did it again after Shaw’s header — “Everyone is always telling you to use your head when you’re out there, so I guess I just went and did that,” he quipped — was reviewed and denied late Tuesday night.
“It feels like it has happened a few times to us,” Kruger said. “And we’ve been able to bounce back right after that.”
It’s time to find out if the Ducks can do the same.
“I think you have to try,” Cogliano said. “It’s tough. It’s tough right now, obviously. You compete that long, and guys are laying it on the line. It’s tough to lose like that, to be honest. It’s 1-1 now. It’s only one game.”