ANAHEIM, Calif. — They couldn’t get a shot off. They couldn’t make a pass. They couldn’t block a lane. They couldn’t win a faceoff. They couldn’t win a board battle. They couldn’t even make a line change properly. The Blackhawks couldn’t do much of anything in the first period of the all-important Game 5 of the Western Conference final on Monday night.
But history said they couldn’t lose. History was wrong.
The Hawks mounted a miracle comeback from a catastrophic first period, with Jonathan Toews scoring twice in the final 1:50 to send the game to overtime, but ended up falling to the Anaheim Ducks 5-4 on Matt Beleskey’s goal just 45 seconds in, pushing their season to the brink. The Ducks are up 3-2 in the series and can put away the Hawks and advance to the Stanley Cup Final with a win Wednesday night at the United Center.
Bryan Bickell’s dump-in on a line change was blocked by the Ducks at the blue line, which triggered a 2-on-1 the other way. Crawford made the initial stop on Ryan Kesler’s shot, but Beleskey knocked in the rebound for a stunning end to a stunning game.
The Hawks needed all their resolve and moxie to get the game to overtime. Now they’ll need all of it again just to keep their season alive.
“We feel that we’re a tough team to get rid of,” Toews said. “And now obviously the next game’s a must-win for us. A lot of guys, most guys, if not everybody in this room, definitely believe that that’s when we play our best, when our backs are against the wall. So we’re ready for that challenge.”
It was the first time the Hawks have lost under Joel Quenneville after a series was tied 2-2. They had been 14-0 in Games 5 and 6 in such situations, the league’s ultimate closers. Now they face the daunting task of having to win two elimination games in a row to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in six years.
It could have been one of the greatest comebacks in Hawks history, one of the unlikeliest wins for a team with a long list of them. Down 4-2 with time ticking away and Corey Crawford on the bench, Toews unleashed a monster slap shot off the iron and in with 1:50 left to make it a game. Then, with 37.2 seconds left, his seemingly harmless fling on net from the corner behind the goal line somehow got through Frederik Andersen — an unimaginably soft goal in such a situation — to tie the game, and stun the Honda Center crowd into utter silence.
“We’ve been through that before,” Patrick Sharp said. “We won the Stanley Cup with two goals in 17 seconds. They don’t get much higher than that. It’s a good series. Good team over there, good team in here.”
And the Ducks, as they have all series long, rebounded in a big way, right away. They have yet to lose in regulation this postseason.
“It’s Ducks hockey,” Kesler joked. “We don’t like to do anything easy.”
Neither do the Hawks, whose only two wins this series have come in multiple overtimes. And with the stakes the highest they’ve been all season, the ever-confident, ever-poised Hawks fell flat on their faces to open the game.
Cam Fowler scored from the point at 5:10 to give the Ducks a 1-0 lead. Ryan Kesler beat Corey Crawford with a spectacular, nearly unblockable redirect of a Jakob Silfverberg shot 32 seconds later to make it 2-0. And by the time Sami Vatanen’s shot from the point off a faceoff win beat Crawford to make it 3-0 at 14:37 of the first, the Hawks didn’t even have a single shot on goal yet. And it didn’t come until 16:20 had passed, when Toews put a puck on Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen.
“We didn’t start on time for the first time this series,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
It was the seventh three-goal period allowed by the Hawks this postseason, and it was by far their worst total team effort.
“I don’t know [why],” Toews said. “I guess when we give up one, we’ve got to find ways to come back and try and cut off their offense and cut off their momentum. At the end of the last game and early in this game, we just didn’t quite do that well enough, and gave up too much. But we’ve got to try and stop the bleeding a little bit earlier next time.”
The playoffs opened with the Hawks erasing a 3-0 first-period deficit in Nashville, and the Ducks couldn’t quite put the Hawks away, either.
Teuvo Teravainen, scratched in Game 3, gave the Hawks life just 71 seconds into the second period when he beat Andersen with a quick-trigger shot from the slot. It was a bad goal for Andersen, who was beaten five-hole, but still a well-disguised shot by the rookie Teravainen. Suddenly the sellout crowd at the Honda Center was a little nervous, and suddenly the Hawks started looking like the Hawks again. After giving up the first 10 shots on goal of the game, the Hawks had 10 of the next 11, and the Ducks were just trying to hold on to their two-goal lead for much of the second period.
Then Teravainen found a pinching Brent Seabrook for a sharp-angle one-timer that beat Andersen with just 24.8 seconds left in the second period, and it was 3-2, and it was anybody’s game. But the Hawks couldn’t capitalize on an early third-period power play, and the game appeared to be over when Patrick Maroon scored at 14:45 off a pretty passing play by Ryan Getzlaf and Vatanen.
The Hawks dug deep to tie it on the two Toews goals. Now they’ll have to dig even deeper.
“No excuses, can’t hold anything back now,” Toews said. “You’ve got to draw on everything you’ve got, every type of experience you’ve been in before and dig even for more than that and see what you’ve got. Because we know how good this team is, we know how determined they are. And I think you definitely dig deep and ask yourself those questions, too, and you find out how much you’ve got. I think we’re confident that we’ve got that character and we’ve got what it takes to win the next game and keep ourselves alive in this series.”