Gustav Forsling’s overtime goal lifts Blackhawks to much-needed win

This could have been a back-breaker, a demoralizing loss of devastating proportions.

Mired in a five-game skid and starting a homestand against three of the worst teams in the league, the Blackhawks outshot the lowly Buffalo Sabres 51-28. They had a ridiculous 95 attempts to the Sabres’ 41. They even hurried Corey Crawford back from a nagging lower-body injury to ensure they got two desperately needed points.

Yet with 3:22 left in the game, the Hawks trailed by a goal. And were on the penalty kill, no less.

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Suddenly, all that urgency they talked about in Washington two days earlier showed up. A virtuoso penalty-kill shift by Nick Schmaltz led to Tommy Wingels tipping in a Gustav Forsling shot for the shorthanded game-tying goal — the Sabres actually had six skaters on the ice at the time — and Forsling scored the game-winner with 4.9 seconds left in overtime to give the Hawks a desperately needed 3-2 victory.

Oh, and in between those two goals, Crawford stopped a Jack Eichel penalty shot in overtime. Whew.

“It was big,” Wingels said. “We talked about turning our game around and finding a way to get a win no matter what. There was certainly frustration here from a lot of guys. . . . Ultimately, you’ve got to find a way to win. You can play well and lose and the confidence doesn’t grow. You’ve got to find a way to win and we did that.”

Credit for that can go to a few unlikely sources. On a team loaded with veteran stars known for their big-game heroics, Alex DeBrincat scored a power-play goal, Vinnie Hinostroza provided a significant spark in his season debut, and Forsling had a terrific game, with a goal and two assists. Even his dragging down of Eichel on the overtime breakaway proved to be a good penalty in hindsight, though it was certainly nerve-racking at the time. Eichel was at the end of a 91-second shift, most of it frantic and in his own zone and was still huffing and puffing when he came in on Crawford for the penalty shot.

“I didn’t think he had so much left in his legs, but he was strong there,” Forsling said of the penalty. “Crow made a big save.”

But the decisive sequence of the game — and perhaps of the young season, given how dire things would have been had the Hawks dropped a sixth consecutive game — came after Brent Seabrook took an ill-advised and ill-timed interference penalty at 15:25 of the third period.

Trailing by a goal, the Hawks penalty killers had the green light to be extra aggressive, and Schmaltz went for it, charging into the offensive zone and setting up Jan Rutta to find Forsling for the shot that Wingels tipped. It was the Wilmette native’s first goal in his hometown rink.

“I think you have more freedom down a goal with a few minutes left,” Wingels said. “Schmaltzy made an aggressive play up ice and created a puck battle, and I think the rest of the killers recognized that and thought we could join the play, as well. A few really good plays there resulted in a goal and we’ll take it.”

The Hawks downplayed the mental significance of the win, displaying their usual defiant air of confidence. But it sounded a lot more genuine and a lot less forced after an all-too-close and all-too-necessary victory.

“We’re a confident group in here, there’s no doubt about that,” Wingels said. “This team knows how to win, this team expects to win. We’re happy to get one here. Are we completely satisfied? No. We know we can be better in a lot of areas. But we can feel good about ourselves tonight, for sure.”

Follow me on Twitter@MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com