Antoine Vermette evens series at 2-2 with double-OT winner

SHARE Antoine Vermette evens series at 2-2 with double-OT winner

Antoine Vermette celebrates his game-winning goal in the second overtime on Saturday night. (Getty Images)

For all their postseason trials and tribulations, all their series comebacks and in-game rallies and all the twists and turns they’ve navigated —a wealth of experience unrivaled in the modern-day NHL —the Blackhawks had never faced anything like this. From a two-goal lead to a one-goal deficit in a flash. From an even series to a potential catastrophe in a blink.

Three goals in 37 seconds by the Anaheim Ducks. The Hawks have been on the other side — “17 seconds,” anyone? — but had never faced anything like this.

“I don’t think so,” Jonathan Toews said. “But we have experienced some moments where you get that sickened feeling, and you’re just thinking, ‘How did we let that slip?’”

And as they do in nearly any situation when a playoff game is on the line, they turned to Patrick Kane. He didn’t disappoint.

Kane scored a power-play goal at 12:39 of the third period — a little more than three minutes after the Ducks scored the second-fastest trio of goals in Stanley Cup playoff history —and Antoine Vermette scored the game-winner at 5:37 of the second overtime to lift the Hawks to another dizzying overtime victory, 5-4, to even the Western Conference final at 2-2. It’s now a best-of-three series, with Game 5 in Anaheim on Monday night.

Vermette was a controversial healthy scratch in Game 3, but said afterward that he didn’t want to make his “personal story” the focus. His coach and teammates were happy to do it for him.

“I was very happy for him,” Joel Quenneville said. “What a huge goal for him and for us. What makes our game so great is that players are so competitive, they want to play in the worst way and want more ice time, as well. You can understand where he was at, very disappointed. But he’s a great pro, stayed with it, and that line had a couple of looks in overtime and I’m glad he finished it because that was a huge, huge goal. Huge.”

Said Brad Richards: “It’s great. Shows his professionalism. No one’s happy not being in the lineup. He went out and scored the biggest goal maybe of his career. Hat’s off to him.”

After four games and 14 periods of hockey, the floodgates finally opened in a logic-defying third period. After falling behind 3-1 early in the period on a pair of goals by Toews and Brent Seabrook, the Ducks scored three goals in 37 seconds —only the 1978-79 Toronto Maple Leafs ever scored three playoff goals faster, in 23 seconds, with Quenneville picking up one of the assists on the third goal —to give them a 4-3 lead. Brad Richards said he “couldn’t dream that up in a million years.”

“I guess when it rains, it pours in some moments, especially for us in that third,” Toews said. “A lot of teams wouldn’t feel too good about themselves, but I think we did a good job of staying calm. … We had the character and the poise to relax and calm ourselves down and make a game of it and find a way to get into it.”

Said Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler: “I’ve come to realize that our team’s capable of a lot of things, especially at times when it looks like things are pretty dark and we might be out of it. We’re a group that believes, no matter what, in here.”

So do the Hawks, though. And with their season suddenly on the brink, Kane banked a redirect of a Brad Richards pass off the back of Frederik Andersen’s left leg and in to tie the game at 4-4, righting the ship and resurrecting a United Center crowd that had flat-lined after the stunning 37-second meltdown.

In all, it was five goals in five minutes. And things were just getting started.

Shortly after Kane’s goal, Niklas Hjalmarsson saved a goal by swatting a puck off the crease behind Corey Crawford (47 saves). In the waning minutes of regulation, Bryan Bickell rang a shot off the post on a 2-on-1. And in the final minute, Crawford survived a shot on goal while he was busy slashing Matt Beleskey and complaining to an official about contact in the crease.

Not exactly your standard period of hockey. Especially in a low-scoring, tight-checking series like this one. But it ended the same way it started — tied.

Toews’ goal at 2:38 of the third broke a 1-1 tie and was a thing of beauty, kickstarted —literally — by Brandon Saad, who one-upped Andrew Shaw’s disallowed header goal in Game 2 with a slick kick pass from the boards to Marian Hossa in the slot. Hossa’s shot was blocked, but he got to the rebound and fed Toews on the doorstep. Toews waited out Anaheim goalie Frederik Andersen (35 saves) until he was sprawled too far, then lifted a shot over him to send the largest crowd of the season — 22,404 — into a tizzy.

It was the Hawks’ first third-period goal of the series, and just the fourth the Ducks had allowed in 13 playoff games. It also came after a stretch of more than 212 minutes in which the Hawks scored just three times. Seabrook unleashed a blast from the point exactly five minutes later for what appeared to be a huge insurance goal at the time.

Then it all fell apart.

Ryan Kesler scored off a one-timer in the slot 64 seconds after Seabrook’s goal to make it 3-2. Matt Beleskey shot around Kimmo Timonen and beat Corey Crawford 23 seconds later to tie it. And Corey Perry stuffed in a shot while being decked by Duncan Keith in the goalmouth 14 seconds after that to give the Ducks a 4-3 lead.

But then Kane did what Kane does, and the Hawks did what the Hawks do — win in overtime. There have been 15 multiple-overtime games in the playoffs in the last three years, and the Hawks have been in evolved in eight of them. They’re now 7-1.

“In the playoffs anything can happen,” Kane said. “We obviously saw that tonight.”


Twitter: @marklazerus

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