Marcus Kruger absorbed Brent Seabrook’s point blast in front of the Anaheim net and then hammered the rebound past Frederik Andersen at 16:12 of the third overtime period, giving the Blackhawks a 3–2 win over the Ducks in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final. Kruger's tally, his second of the postseason, ended an exhilarating contest that featured 118 shots on net, relentless physical play, 80 exasperating turnovers and one unforgettable disallowed OT goal.
The series, now tied at a game apiece, resumes on Thursday night in Chicago (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA).
Here are three thoughts in the wake of this instant classic:
1. Heady play by the Blackhawks.
It won’t be the Kruger OT winner or the fact that this was the longest game in Blackhawks franchise history that everyone will be buzzing about after this one.
It’ll be Andrew Shaw and the no-goal call that robbed the Hawks of an apparent victory in the second OT.
That’s not to say it wasn’t the right call, because it was. But Shaw’s soccer-style header of a Patrick Kane rebound was such a crazy, athletic, unexpected play that everyone but the Ducks and their fans wanted it to count. Even other NHL players were expecting a good goal call.
But it wasn’t to be. While the Blackhawks celebrated their apparent victory, the referees gathered to discuss the event. It didn’t take them long to conclude that Shaw deliberately head-butted the puck into the net. Accidental body contact via a deflection is fine. But intentional use of any body part to direct the puck into the net? You can’t do that.
It’s worth pointing out that the NHL rule book doesn’t specifically forbid a player from heading the puck into the net. But Rule 78.5 makes it clear that “when the puck has been directed, batted or thrown into the net by an attacking player other than with a stick” the goal has to be waved off.
While it was a, ahem, heads-up play by Shaw, and one that’s destined go down in hockey lore, the officials got the call right.
And in the end, the Hawks got the result they needed anyway.
2. Lose the battle, win the war.
I was thinking early in the first overtime that no matter how it played out, this was the game that would turn the series in Anaheim’s favor. Even after that dramatic win by Chicago, I still feel the same way.
Playoff hockey is a war of attrition, and while the Hawks may have got the win they needed, you have to wonder about the cost. Look at the ice times accrued by Chicago’s top-four defenders: Duncan Keith, 49:51; Niklas Hjalmarsson, 45:59; Brent Seabrook, 45:04; and Johnny Oduya, 44:34. That’s the sort of workload that can’t be glossed over with a day’s rest, especially when the physical punishment they endured is added to the equation. Anaheim’s forecheckers targeted Chicago’s blueliners throughout the game, landing 41 official hits along with dozens of other glancing blows, late shots and the occasional “how’s-she-goin’.” All that contact is bound to take a toll on a unit that's essentially playing two men down.
Sure, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville gave a little more ice to his grocery stick third pair in this one, but what choice did he have in a game like this? Kyle Cumiskey gave a decent account of himself during nearly 19 minutes of mostly mistake-free play. Kimmo Timonen though was less fortunate. The veteran looked like he was wearing cement skates in this one, and his hockey head wasn’t working too well, either. His ill-timed offensive-zone pinch midway through the first period led directly to the Andrew Cogliano goal that cut Chicago’s lead to 2–1 and helped turn the tide of the game in Anaheim’s favor. After that he was routinely victimized by the Ducks’ forecheck, and ended up rushing his plays and struggling to clear the zone.
I advocated using Timonen more prior to this contest, but after seeing how physically outmatched he was Tuesday night it’s hard to see him being of any real value moving forward. And that’s bad news for the Hawks. It doesn’t take a long memory to recall how they wore down a Philadelphia team that relied on four defensemen on the way to their 2010 Stanley Cup championship. If they can’t get any semblance of meaningful minutes out of their third pair, that has to play in the Ducks’ favor as this series drags on.
3. A few more thoughts:
A game like this offered too many talking points to capture effectively in the Three Thoughts format, so we’ll quick-hit a few topics here.
• You’ve gotta feel for the Ducks. They rang three off the iron in extra time, including two off the stick of Sami Vatanen. When that happens, it’s just not your night.
• How close was Kruger to being the goat in this one? The winger took an inexcusable offensive zone penalty with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, putting the Hawks down a man at a point that was all but sudden death. His teammates bailed him out, but his lack of discipline won’t go unnoticed by Quenneville just because he was the OT hero.
• Speaking of the penalty kill, both teams came up big shorthanded. After coughing up power play goals to Shaw and Marian Hossa in the first 6:19 of play, the Anaheim's PK regrouped and was a key reason the game lasted as long as it did. The Ducks were forced to kill off more than a minute of a five-on-three early in the third period with the score tied, and then a too many men on the ice call midway through the second OT. The Hawks were just as sharp, killing off all five chances including Kruger’s boneheaded blunder and Hjalmarsson's tripping penalty during the first OT.
• Corey Crawford compiled an astonishing career-high of 60 saves on the night. Tough to single out one or two as being the best considering the number of excellent scoring chances he faced, but his stop on a wide-open Corey Perry in the low slot in OT was as clutch as any. It is also worth noting that both goals he allowed were off deflections directly in front of the crease. No one is stopping those.
• Frederik Andersen hasn’t faced any real adversity in these playoffs, so his response to allowing those two early goals was bound to be telling. Impressive then how quickly he settled down and found his groove, making 47 saves between Hossa’s goal and Kruger’s winner. That's nearly 110 minutes of play, good enough for one regulation win and nearly two. And the goals he did allow? Two of the three were deflections and the third was knocked in by Simon Despres. Not much he could do about those chances. Fair to say all the questions we had about him coming into the series have been answered.
• As much of a gut punch as this loss was, there's reason for optimism in Anaheim. They were the better possession team on the night. They did a more effective job of distributing their defensive minutes – only Francois Beauchemin (46:29) approached the workload of Chicago’s top four blueliners – and they showed tremendous resilience battling back from that early two-goal deficit. They also got much better efforts from their top forwards than in Game 1. Perry and Ryan Getzlaf combined for 10 hits and 11 shots on net and were dangerous throughout the night. Neither has scored yet in this series, but after a game like that it's hard to imagine they'll be kept off the board much longer. Add in some solid efforts from secondary players – Kyle Palmieri had a game-high eight shots and Jiri Sekac showcased some sick hands – and there's no reason to think they can't get a split in Chicago and return home even for Game 5.