Matt Beleskey scored 45 seconds into overtime to thwart a furious Chicago rally and secure a dramatic 5–4 win for the Ducks in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals on Monday night.
The winger, who was dropped to the fourth line to start the game, found himself back in his customary spot on the second line as the contest headed into extra time. Beleskey broke in two-on-one with Ryan Kesler on the decisive play, and when the veteran center executed a bounce pass off the right pad of Chicago keeper Corey Crawford he was in perfect position to hammer the rebound into the yawning cage.
The victory at Honda Center gives the Ducks a 3-2 series lead and moves them to one win away from their first berth in the Stanley Cup finals since 2007.
Game 6 is set for Wednesday night in Chicago (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA).
Here are three quick thoughts coming out of another classic:
1. No surprise that the Ducks were focusing on their resilience after this one.
“I've said it a hundred times, it‘s the belief,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said in his postgame press conference. “We keep talking about it. The belief that it can happen. I mean, both teams are tremendously resilient. We score three goals, whatever, last game, and Chicago comes right back and ties it up, ends up winning it. They score two goals in the last minute to tie it up. We have the wherewithal to dig deep and come back in overtime.”
Privately though, the Ducks have to know they escaped with a win despite playing only 20 minutes of excellent hockey.
Anaheim played a textbook first period, getting pucks deep and punishing Chicago’s defenders. The relentless physical play by the Ducks created several hurries and half a dozen turnovers, two of which matured into goals by Cam Fowler and Ryan Kesler just 32 seconds apart less than six minutes into the game. When Sami Vatanen extended the lead to 3–0 before the the period was over, it looked like there’d be an early trip to the showers for the hard-luck Crawford followed by 40 minutes of caution-flag hockey as both sides aimed to get everyone safely to Game 6.
Instead, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville played a hunch and left Crawford between the pipes. And the Ducks ditched everything that worked for them in the first and played simply to protect the lead they already had.
Next thing you know the Hawks are reminding everyone that they never, ever give up. And a game that seemingly was out of reach was in overtime.
“Putting them away, you got to play your butt off for 60 minutes,” Boudreau said. “I mean, we played our butts off for the first 20, whereas I was a little worried, I thought we outplayed them so bad and it should have been four or five [to nothing]. Then I kept thinking of the Nashville game, Game 1, how [Chicago] came back after a 3–0 lead. [I] kept telling the guys to keep their foot on the gas. Once they get that first one, I thought we resettled the ship a little bit, then they got the one at the end of the second. That made our hearts pound a little bit harder for the rest of the third.”
You want to call it human nature to ease up with a big lead? Fine, but that’s not the nature of a champion. The Ducks played not to lose for the final 40 minutes of Game 5 and it nearly cost them.
It was the Hawks, not the Ducks, who offered a master class in resilience on Monday. Chicago turned the game around with a dominant second period, then battled back ferociously when the game was seemingly put out of hand by Patrick Maroon late in the third. If Anaheim hopes to close out this series, it should have paid close attention.
2. Frederik Andersen owes the boys a steak dinner.
Anaheim’s keeper allowed four goals on the night, including a pair to Jonathan Toews in the final 1:50 of regulation that erased what should have been a comfortable 4–2 lead.
Nothing he could do about the Toews clap bomb that cut the lead to 4–3. For a guy who is not known for his shot, Captain Serious got all of that one and scorched it past Andersen to make things interesting. Each of the other three though? Eminently stoppable. Teuvo Teravainen’s second period tally was a low-risk from mid-distance that caught Andersen napping. Brent Seabrook’s goal that made it 3–2 in the final minute of the second? A bad angle shot that Andersen should have anticipated with Teravainen parked with the puck behind the net.
But those looked stamp-worthy compared to Toews’ tying goal. That one, with just 38 seconds on the clock, was a wrister launched from the goal line five feet out from the boards. Instead of dropping into his reverse VH position to cover the post, Andersen remained standing, allowing the Hail Mary to bounce off the inside of his left foot and into the net. It was a spirit crushing goal, the kind that can never under any circumstances go in. Had Anaheim lost, it would have inspired a thousand beach ball-themed memes. With the win? Maybe it’ll be half a dozen or so.
It would have been nice to see Andersen make at least one stop in overtime, if only so that he could show that he was able to get his head screwed on straight. Instead, after the Ducks outshot the Hawks 4-0 in the extra frame, he and Boudreau can expect 48 hours of questions regarding what went wrong and whether the goalie is up to the challenge of finishing off Chicago in Game 6.
Not that anyone expects Boudreau to make a change—you don’t pull a goalie who just picked up an OT win in the WCF, no matter how ugly it was. But after suffering breakdowns in technique and mental awareness, Andersen is under the gun to raise his levels for Game 6.
3. You know what they say about history being written by the winners ...
If Chicago pulls off the comeback, it will go into the books as perhaps the grittiest performance of Toews’s career. The veteran center battled all night long but was matched step-for-step by the tight-laced checking of Kesler, right up until Crawford was pulled in the final moments and Toews forced overtime almost by himself. There are no fancy stats to explain a performance like that. That was pure determination, a captain tossing his team on his back and carrying it to the finish line. Remarkable.
Equally impressive was the performance of rookie winger Teravainen, a player who was infamously benched by Quenneville in Game 3. It’s inevitable that Teravainen’s impact will be diminished by the loss, but that was exactly what Hawks fans have been waiting for since he was selected in the first round in 2012. All patience and guile with a knack for hitting the open ice at top speed, he singlehandedly lifted the Hawks out of their first period stupor and teamed with Antoine Vermette and Patrick Sharp to form Chicago’s most consistently dangerous line of the night.
Teravainen ended up with a goal and an assist, which makes it hard to figure out why Quenneville didn’t ride the hot hand and give him some time on the team’s struggling power play. If Chicago’s coach is going to make one adjustment heading into Game 6, it should focus around giving the kid a chance to work that same magic with the extra man.
This was a tough one to lose, but the Hawks gave themselves something to build on. This team doesn't have the depth that Chicago’s 2013 Stanley Cup winners did, let alone its unstoppable 2010 club, but it has an enviable core of talent and great reservoir of character. A better start in this one and maybe the Hawks are going home with the 3-2 lead. Expect them to be ready when the puck drops for Game 6.