One small step back for the Hawks, one big step up for Teuvo Teravainen

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Teuvo Teravainen (center) celebrates his second-period goal against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 5 of the Western Conference final. Teravainen also had an assist as the Hawks overcame a 3-0 deficit, but lost 5-4 in overtime. (Harry How/Getty Images)

ANAHEIM, Calif. —Joel Quenneville is on his way to the Hall of Fame. But besides being one of the best coaches in NHL history, he might end up also being known as “the guy who benched Teuvo Teravainen in the Stanley Cup playoffs.”

With all due respect to Quenneville’s magnificent run as the Hawks coach,his benching of the up-and-coming Teravainen in Game 3 of the Western Conference final was mystifying when it happened and the kid is making it look even more mystifying with every shift, every period and every game. That’s how fast he’s coming.

What’s done is done. But as this series ensues, the benching of Teravainen and Antoine Vermette in Game 3 — after the Hawks had won Game 2 —looms larger and larger. You don’t need 700 NHL victories to know that the 20-year-old Teravainen is getting better every time he steps on the ice. But he was benched after the first two games of the first-round series against Nashville. And again for Game 3 against the Ducks. Quenneville’s penchant for lineup tinkering and his philosophy of playing to win each game betrayed him here. Teravainen should have been in every playoff game he could play, because a player with his skill and intuition for the game has a chance to be a totally different player at the end of a Stanley Cup run that at the beginning.

“I’m confident. I’m a lot more confident out there than [with] the media right there,” Teravainen said, eliciting laughter from reporters. “That’s a good thing.”

Teravainen provided the best evidence of that in Game 5 on Monday night at the Honda Center. He was finding the open ice he needs and becoming a threat on every shift. And getting the payoff. He had two more points (a goal and an assist) and now has nine points in just 10 games.

With the Hawks down 3-0, Teravainen ignited the comeback with a goal on a shot from the slot that went between the pads of Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen and slithered past the goal line to make it 3-1 at the 1:11 mark of the second period.

As hockey players are wont to do, Teravainen built on the momentum and played with even more confidence. And the game seemed to come to him. Instead of trying to make things happen, opportunities seemed to present themselves. And Teravainen could afford to be patient with the puck. That’s not an easy thing to do when you’re 20 years old in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but it’s the key to going from heralded teenage prospect to as close as possible to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Sure enough, Teravainen found himself with the puck behind the net and less than a minute to play in the second period. He had time, he took time and waited for the right moment to pass to Brent Seabrook, who rifled a shot from the right face-off circle past Andersen. It not only cut the Ducks’ deficit to 3-2, but put some real fear into the building and some doubt into the Ducks.

“Someone had to step up a little bit,” Teravainen said. “I had a chance to shoot and it went in. That was good. Then Sharpie passed to me and I found Seabrook and it was a huge goal. We got right back in the game. It felt good. But it doesn’t matter because we didn’t win the game.”

Alas, Teravainen’s play indeed was for nought, as the Hawks lost 5-4 in overtime to fall behind 3-2 in the series. But despite the outcome, the Hawks left with plenty of hope for the future. They’ll be on home ice in Game 6. They won’t be coming off a double-overtime game. And Teuvo Teravainen will be even better the next time.

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