Seventeen days earlier, the Blackhawks were flatlining. Two measly goals in three maddening games — all losses to the hated Detroit Red Wings — put them on the brink of elimination, the brink of a third straight early playoff exit, the brink of disaster. The stars were losing their luster and losing their cool. The power play was utterly powerless, actually sucking energy out of the Hawks. The United Center was shaking not so much with noise, but with nerves.
Yet on Saturday night, the Hawks shook the hands of the vanquished defending champions and lifted their sticks in the air in celebration before a giddy crowd of 22,237.
The Hawks are back from the dead. And back in the Stanley Cup Final.
Patrick Kane — back from oblivion himself — scored his third goal of the game off a Jonathan Toews feed with 8:20 left in the second overtime to give the Hawks a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings. Just four days earlier, Kane sat in his locker stall at Staples Center and insisted he hadn’t suddenly become “a bad player.” Four goals in two games later, including his biggest since his Stanley Cup-winning goal in 2010, he proved it.
Up next: The Boston Bruins in a tantalizing Original Six matchup of two recent champs for the most storied trophy in sports. Game 1 will be Wednesday night at the United Center. Not a bad 16-day run, all told.
“That says a lot about our team,” Patrick Sharp said. “A lot about the character in our room. We were pushed straight to the brink against the Wings, and we were able to find something left and play our best hockey. I feel like we’ve been doing that ever since.”
It was the second straight drama-filled series-clincher for the Hawks, who knocked off the Red Wings in Game 7 on Brent Seabrook’s overtime winner after Niklas Hjalmarsson’s apparent goal was waved off with less than two minutes to go.
This time, the overtime heroics came after a dizzying final four minutes of regulation. First, Kane scored his second goal of the game with 3:52 left, putting the Hawks on the doorstep of victory. The crowd was delirious as the minutes and seconds melted away. But with 14.4 seconds left, Jarrett Stoll won a faceoff in the Hawks’ zone against Jonathan Toews, and Mike Richards deflected Anze Kopitar’s blast from the point past Corey Crawford with 9.4 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
“A kick in the back,” Andrew Shaw called it.
But the experience of the Hjalmarsson no-goal paid off in this one. The Hawks brought it up during the overtime intermission as an example of their resilience and mental fortitude.
“That’s the playoffs,” Shaw said. “A lot can happen, a lot can change. Lot of ups and downs, like a roller-coaster ride. We kind of kept our composure there, and we fought back.”
The Kings entered the game as the team in a dire situation, needing the same desperation the Hawks had a couple weeks earlier against Detroit. But the Hawks came out strong, and jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on goals by Duncan Keith and Kane in the first six minutes of the game, and seemed ready to coast into the Final.
But there was no finishing blow delivered, no nail in the coffin. The Hawks — so aggressive and active in outshooting the Kings 7-0 through the first 10-plus minutes — took their foot off the gas. And eventually, the sluggish Kings found new life with a shorthanded goal by Dwight King at 7:50 of the second period.
Justin Williams went hard to the Hawks net with Nick Leddy on his back, and King trailed the play and cleaned up the rebound to cut the Hawks’ lead to 2-1, taking the crowd out of the game and putting the Kings back into it.
The Kings tied it 2-2 on an Anze Kopitar power play goal early in the third period. It was a crushing sequence for the Hawks, who nearly took a 3-1 lead when Quick made a lunging blocker save on Johnny Oduya (one of countless near-misses for the Hawks in the third period), Bryan Bickell immediately took a boarding penalty, and Kopitar stuffed a Jeff Carter rebound through Crawford’s legs 44 seconds later to tie it.
Kane appeared to give the Hawks the win when he ripped a centering feed from Bickell past Quick with 3:52 to go. But Richards’ stunning goal with 9.4 seconds left made the Hawks work overtime to reach the Stanley Cup Final — a series for which they’ve seemed destined since racing out to a record 21-0-3 start, but a series that seemed all but out of reach barely two short weeks ago.
“We were in a great position — just get a tough bounce and then we have to go through some more adversity,” said Crawford, who finished with 33 saves. “Why not double OT to end it?”