Alex DeBrincat ties game in final second, Blackhawks top Panthers 5-4 in OT

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Alex DeBrincat beams after his tying goal with 0.8 seconds left. (AP/Joe Skipper)

SUNRISE, Fla.— One imagines a somber flight home, with pin-drop silence and enough simmering frustration to affect a slight change in cabin pressure.

How close the Blackhawks were to the bitter end of another empty road trip. How miserable their fans would’ve been. How negative the story lines would’ve skewed.

But something akin to a sunrise happened Saturday in a town by that very name. The Hawks stunned the Panthers 5-4 in overtime after rallying twice from two-goal deficits and tying the game on an Alex DeBrincat goal with 0.8 seconds left in regulation.

Erik Gustafsson then won it midway through the five-minute overtime period, snapping an eight-game road losing streak and salvaging the finale of what turned out to be a 1-2 trip. No one’s writing home about 1-2, but it sure beats the heck out of 0-3 — or even, in case anyone out there wants to get technical, 0-2-1.

Another empty trip would’ve pulled a black cloud over this strange season of transition from the Joel Quenneville era to the Jeremy Colliton experiment. Instead, the Hawks headed off the ice and into a jubilant locker room with a little hope. Maybe some weight off their shoulders, too.

“It was just smiles all over the place,” Gustaffson said. “It was great to come in here with a win. It was a great feeling coming in here afterward. It’s going to feel good to come home to Chicago. We now get to play at home with a win in the back [pocket].”

The Panthers came in as one of four NHL teams with fewer points than the Hawks. But they’d won three straight at BB&T Center, and, not for nothing, the other three bottom-dwellers — the Blues, Coyotes and Kings — all had beaten the Hawks this season.

A 2-0 first-period deficit seemed daunting given the Hawks were just 1-9-1 when their opponent scored first. But David Kampf provided a first-minute lift in the second period with his third goal of the season, and Patrick Kane gave his signature fist-pump after tying it with his 13th.

The writing appeared to be back on the wall as the Panthers led 4-2 heading into the third period, but the Hawks responded with what Colliton called their most “desperate” effort during his two-plus weeks on the job.

“Clearly, we have to find a way to start that way and play every shift like it’s life or death,” he said. “But good to see the response in the third, and proud of the guys.”

After being outshot 34-19 through two periods, the Hawks completely turned the tables, outshooting the Panthers 22-4 the rest of the way. With an extra skater on for goalie Cam Ward, the Hawks threw everything they had at the Panthers’ James Reimer in a frenetic final two and a half minutes.

The tying goal was a shocking, though fitting, confirmation of that effort. Kane played the puck around the boards to Brandon Saad, who — with his back to DeBrincat — fed a blind pass into the slot. DeBrincat reached the puck alone, gave it a modest strike and watched in disbelief as it slid between Reimer’s legs.

“I got pretty lucky there,” DeBrincat said.

After Gustafsson’s game-winner, the Hawks left the ice with arms slung around one another, the start of a celebration that might not have done all that much to mitigate the team’s serious flaws, but, you know what? It still was a mighty big win.

“I think we have to take this with us the rest of the season,” Gustaffson said.

Step 1: Bringing it home on quite an enjoyable plane ride.

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