ANAHEIM -- Come to think of it, Duncan Keith’s celebration did seem a bit muted. The Blackhawks alternate captain had just collected his 18th point of this postseason–the second assist on Chicago’s fifth goal of the evening, a Brent Seabrook slapshot ripped past Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen, who wasn’t so bad in this 5-3 Game 7 loss as he was simply overwhelmed.
Seabrook’s third-period rocket, coming just 1:47 after Anaheim’s second goal, restored the visitors’ three-goal buffer, strangled whatever momentum the home team had mustered, induced one disgruntled ex-Duck to tweet out his schadenfreude and punched the Blackhawks’ ticket to their third Stanley Cup finals in six years.
Keith skated over, slapped his fellow defenseman on the back, patted him on the helmet, and went on his way. Maybe he was conserving energy. Keith has averaged a remarkable 31:36 of ice time in this postseason, by choice–the two-time Norris Trophy winner is among the game’s premiere offensive defensemen–and by necessity. Since Michal Rozsival fractured an ankle in the final game of Chicago’s second-round sweep of the Wild, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has rolled primarily with four defenseman.
Duly noting this was Quenneville’s long-ago teammate, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, a terrific regular season skipper now doomed to another year of answering questions about the millstone he must bear, onto which has been engraved his ghastly record in seventh games: following Saturday night’s loss, it now stands at 1-6.
Boudreau’s plan to slow the Blackhawks was not exactly original: with their legion of brawny forwards, the Ducks would tenderize Chicago’s diminished corps of defenseman. Every time a Chicago rearguard turned his back to retrieve a puck from the corner, they would introduce him, with violence, to the Plexiglas.
The idea was to pulverize Keith in particular. As Anaheim’s excellent, aggravating center Ryan Keslerhad remarked earlier in the series, “No human could withstand” the barrage of body blows to which Keith would be subjected. It all made you hope Keith’s insurance was up to date.
In the end, as he worked his way through the handshake line, Keith looked, almost … fresh. When I told him he seemed pretty spry, considering how much ice time he’d logged, and how frequently he’d been targeted, he deadpanned, “What’s spry?”
“I feel good,” he went on, then gave Anaheim its propers: “Let’s face it, they’re at the top of our conference for a reason–they’re big guys that can skate, and with a lot of skill.” That said, he went on, “I think we’re moving on for a reason, for showing a lot of character, using our strength and skill.”
This conference finals pitted a team that had been assembled to get past the swift, artistic Red Wings, against a club built to go mano-a-mano with the punishing, physical Kings. With its embarrassment of riches in the Skills Dept., Chicago won going away. It wasn’t that Anaheim got worse, contended the forlorn Boudreau, afterward. “But I do believe the Blackhawks got better. They’re a tough team to catch up from.”
“They’ve been through this before,” said one former NHL director of player personnel, of the Western Conference champs. Bigger teams always plan to wear Chicago down, to turn a series into a battle of attrition. “They bend a little”–the Blackhawks lost three of the first five games against the Ducks–“but they don’t break. Next thing you know, games six and seven, it’s not about hitting. It’s about hockey.”
“I don’t think there was one time that we’ve talked about getting worn down, or physically beaten up,” said right wing Patrick Kane, pointedly, 20 minutes after his team had advanced. Besides, he added, the Hawks can bang a little. "We’re a puck possession team, but at the same time, we have to win our fair share of battles. It’s not just skill that’s gonna get it done all the time.”
Skill that got it done down the stretch in this series. Anaheim won The Battle of the Body Blows, outhitting Chicago 336 to 251, over seven games. And the Ducks are done for the season.
The NHL's Great Game 7s
2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals
Derek Stepan scored 11:24 in overtime, lifting the New York Rangers past the Washington Capitals 2-1 and into the Eastern Conference finals. Stepan's wrist shot from the left wing after he won a faceoff — a rarity for the Rangers — capped a comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the series. The Rangers are the only team to manage that in successive years, doing the same thing to Pittsburgh in the second round in 2014. The Rangers extended an NHL record with their 14th straight one-goal game, dating to 2014's Stanley Cup Final loss to Los Angeles.
2014 Western Conference Finals
A truly great series between two never-say-die Stanley Cup champs (Blackhawks 2013; Kings 2012) went down to a riveting classic in which L.A. came back twice with Marian Gaborik's goal at 7:17 of the third period knotting the score at 4-4 and setting up a breathlessly intense OT full of non-stop action. The Kings advanced when defenseman Alec Martinez’s wrist shot from the blue line went in off Hawks defenseman Nick Leddy at the 5:47 mark.
2014 Western Conference Quarterfinals
The Wild never had a lead in the game, until it was over. Every time Colorado scored each of their four goals, Minnesota answered back to tie it up. But at 5:02 in overtime, Nino Niederreiter scored his second goal of the game after teammate Ilya Bryzgalov made a big save filling in for injured netminder Darcy Kuemper, leading the Wild to a 5-4 win over the Avalanche in Game 7. Minnesota's only other series win in the first round of the playoffs came 11 years earlier with a Game 7 win in overtime against the Avalanche, whose goalie was Patrick Roy, Colorado's current head coach.
2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Playing in their first playoff series in nine years, the Maple Leafs looked like they had things sewn up with a 4-1 lead and 14 minutes remaining in the third period. That's when Boston found the magic. The Bruins scored three straight goals to close out the third, with Patrice Bergeron potting the tying tally as well as the winner six minutes into a tense overtime period. For the Leafs, who came back from 3-1 down in the series to force a Game 7, it was perhaps the cruelest end to a playoff run that had the city of Toronto hanging on every play and in ecstatic anticipation.
2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
The Devils wasted a 2-0 lead in the third period, then recovered as Adam Henrique scored his second goal of the game at 3:47 of the second overtime. Henrique picked up a loose puck in the right circle, skated toward the slot and beat Jose Theodore with a low shot. The Devils mobbed Henrique, as Theodore knelt on the ice in disbelief. Martin Brodeur made 43 saves for the Devils in a game that ended on April 27 — the 20th anniversary of Brodeur's first playoff appearance for New Jersey.
2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
It was fitting that perhaps the closest playoff series in NHL history — all seven games were decided by one goal — ended in OT. Matt Hendricks and Joel Ward, two forwards who combined for all of 10 goals in 151 regular-season games, were all the offense Washington needed as rookie goalie Braden Holtby came through in a thrilling 2-1 win at TD Garden that ended Boston's defense of the Stanley Cup. It was a remarkable outcome given that few people thought the Capitals had much of a chance after their up-and-down season that saw coach Bruce Boudreau replaced by Dale Hunter in November.
2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Nathan Horton scored 5:43 into overtime with a slap shot off a pass from Milan Lucic, setting off a celebration on the Bruins' bench and in the stands. It was Boston's third OT win in the series, including Game 5 when Horton scored 9:03 into the second extra period. The Canadiens won the first two games in Boston to swipe home-ice advantage, but the Bruins came back to win three straight -- including the first two in Montreal, and then Game 5 at home.
2011 Western Conference Quarterfinals
After being eliminated the previous two years by Chicago, Vancouver finally returned the favor. Alex Burrows scored his second goal 5:22 into overtime, Roberto Luongo made 31 saves, and the Canucks avoided an historic playoff collapse by knocking the defending Stanley Cup champions out in the first round. Burrows, who took a penalty early in OT, pounced on a Chris Campoli turnover and fired a slapper over the right shoulder of rookie goalie Corey Crawford. Vancouver had won the first three games before the Hawks roared back with three straight victories, threatening to spoil the Canucks' Presidents Trophy-winning season by becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to erase an 0-3 series deficit.
2011 Western Conference Semifinals
For all the blame Patrick Marleau has shouldered for San Jose's postseason failures, it was only fitting that his winning goal helped the Sharks avoid one of their biggest collapses. Marleau got his first point of the series when he knocked home a rebound with 7:47 to play and then made the key defensive play in the closing seconds of an amazing Game 7 -- the sixth one-goal outcome in their series. San Jose advanced to its third conference final in franchise history; but of similar importance avoided becoming the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 series lead in the playoffs.
2011 Eastern Conference Finals
Eventual Conn Smythe Trophy-winner (as playoff MVP) Tim Thomas stopped all 24 shots he faced, Nathan Horton scored with 7:33 left in regulation, and the Bruins hung on to beat the upstart Lightning 1-0 and reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1990.
2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals
Down 3-0 in games, Philadelphia rallied to tie the series. Down 3-0 in Game 7, Philadelphia rallied again and Simon Gagne's power-play goal in the third period lifted the Flyers to an improbable 4-3 win over the Bruins. It was a humiliating defeat for Boston, which became the third team in NHL history to flush a series after winning the first three games. The Flyers thus joined the exclusive ranks of the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, who beat Detroit, and the 1975 New York Islanders, who eliminated Pittsburgh, by climbing out of an 0-3 coffin. The other 159 teams that had won the first three games of a series had prevailed.
2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals
Up 3-2 on home ice with the great Martin Brodeur in net and less than two minutes left to play, the Devils were sitting pretty, or so it seemed. Then Jussi Jokinen (left) scored for the Hurricanes with 1:20 to go and Eric Staal (right) shocked New Jersey by beating Brodeur with 32 ticks to spare on the clock. "This is as sweet as it comes," said Carolina goaltender Cam Ward, who made 32 saves. "That's why you never give up and play until the final buzzer."
2007 Western Conference Semifinals
The series was a war, with the Stars climbing out of a three-games-to-one hole. Three of the seven games were settled in an extra session -- including a four-OT thriller in Game 1, won by the Canucks, 5-4, with goalie Roberto Luongo making 72 saves in his postseason debut. Vancouver advanced on home ice as its longtime hero Trevor Linden, a veteran of eight career Game 7s, broke a 1-1 tie by tipping a Mattias Ohlund shot past Stars goalie Marty Turco seven minutes into the third period. Bryan Smolinski and Taylor Pyatt later added empty-netters.
2006 Eastern Conference Final
Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour was the hero, pouncing on a rebound and beating Buffalo's Ryan Miller to snap a 2-2 tie at 11:22 of the third period. Brind'Amour also assisted on Justin Williams' tally in the final minute to seal the win before a delirious home crowd. Rookie goaltender Cam Ward continued to make his case for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP by making 22 saves.
2006 Stanley Cup Final
Carolina's RBC Center was rocking as Cam Ward earned the Conn Smythe Trophy with a 22-save performance that held off the underdog Oilers' furious comeback from a three-games-to-one deficit. Aaron Ward, Frantisek Kaberle (power play) and Justin Williams (empty net) scored and Ward did the rest while becoming the first rookie goalie since Patrick Roy in 1986 to backstop his team to the Stanley Cup.
2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
The Canadiens came all the way back from a three-games-to-one deficit for the first time in their storied history, winning a defensive battle in Boston. The Northeast Division champion Bruins held the underdog Habs to one shot in the third period -- until Richard Zednik broke the scoreless tie with 9:08 left by knocking home the rebound of Alex Kovalev's shot. Zednik also scored into an empty net.
2004 Western Conference Quarterfinals
After blowing a 4-0 lead, the Canucks got a goal from Brendan Morrison in triple OT of Game 6 and returned home for their decisive match. It was a hair-raising see-saw. Down 2-1 in the final minute and on a power play with their goalie pulled, the Canucks took a cross-checking penalty and then watched as Calgary's Jarome Iginla, who had scored twice, narrowly missed an empty net. Incredibly, Matt Cooke jammed home the tying goal off the rebound of a shot by Markus Naslund with only 5.7 seconds left. But the crowd went home unhappy when Calgary's Martin Gelinas scored 1:25 into OT.
2004 Eastern Conference Final
Clinging to a one-goal lead, Nikolai Khabibulin stopped Keith Primeau on a second-period breakaway and the Lightning hung on to win their first Game 7 and advance to their first Stanley Cup Final. Former Flyer Ruslan Fedotenko scored a deflected power-play goal at 16:46 of the first period and Frederik Modin netted the winner at 4:57 of the second.
2004 Stanley Cup Final
The Lightning held the Flames to a measly seven shots in the first two periods, but had to withstand a wild final stanza to make Ruslan Fedotenko's two goals stand up. Bolts goalie Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 16 shots in the third period, including a dazzler on Jordan Leopold with the net wide open. The Flames got a power play tally from Craig Conroy midway through the third, but that was it. "We just tried to get through it, and we found a way," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "It's unbelievable. It's a great feeling."
2003 Eastern Conference Final
After the Devils blew a three-games-to-one lead on the Presidents' Trophy-winners, winger Jeff Friesen had to redeem himself for a third-period turnover that allowed the Senators to tie the game at 2-2 in front of a roaring crowd in Ottawa. With 2:14 to play in regulation, Friesen scored the biggest goal of his career, beating goalie Patrick Lalime. "I couldn't even react, I couldn't even describe what that was like," Friesen said. "It just happened to work out that I got a chance to get that big goal."
2002 Western Conference Semifinals
Patrick Roy was masterful in stopping 27 shots while the Avs nursed Peter Forsberg's second-period goal, especially during San Jose's two-man advantage in the final 55 seconds. Roy extended his NHL record with his 22nd career playoff shutout. "I said before Game 6, if there is one player I'm not worried about for Game 7, it's Patrick," said Colorado coach Bob Hartley. "He's our energy, he's the reason that every game we feel that we have a chance to win. He came up large tonight."
2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals
Mario Lemieux's goal with 1 minute, 18 seconds left in Game 6 forced a decisive showdown against Dominik Hasek and the Sabres in Buffalo. "It's the most exciting thing in hockey," Hasek said. "We only have to win the game." Alas, Penguins blueliner Darius Kasparaitis prevented that by beating Hasek in OT for his first career playoff goal.
2000 Eastern Conference Finals
After falling behind in the series, 3-1, the Devils slammed the door on the Flyers. Martin Brodeur was brilliant as the Devils won both Game 6 and Game 7 by 2-1 scores. Game 7 was played in Philadelphia and Flyers fans will never forget the sight of Devils defenseman Scott Stevens drilling Eric Lindros (inset) as the Flyers captain crossed the blue line with his head down early in the first period. Patrik Elias scored the decisive goal for the Devils in the third period.
1997 Western Conference Conference Quarterfinals
The Oilers pulled off a huge upset when, after a dazzling save by goalie Curtis Joseph, Doug Weight found winger Todd Marchant with a pass. Stars defenseman Grant Ledyard fell and Marchant went on on a breakaway, beating Andy Moog with a high shot at 12:26 of the third extra session. "It was one of those games where you knew something weird was going to happen. Toddy scoring would likely be it," Oilers coach Ron Low told the Edmonton Journal. "He'd only had about 500 breakaways that year and scored on one percent of them."
1996 Western Conference Semifinals
Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman ended an epic goaltending duel by grabbing a puck off Wayne Gretzky's stick, taking off and beating Jon Casey with a slap shot from the blue line at 1:15 of double overtime. "I couldn't believe it went in," Yzerman said after the game. "I don't score a whole lot of goals from out there. To score a goal in overtime, particularly in Game 7, is a tremendous thrill. Every player dreams of that."
1994 Eastern Conference Finals
Mark Messier's famous guarantee of a Rangers victory in Game 6 set up this nail-biting defensive battle. New York led 1-0 until the Devils tied the game with only 7.7 seconds left in regulation at Madison Square Garden. The winner was scored on Devils goalie Martin Brodeur by Stephane Matteau (32) at 4:21 of the second extra session -- his second double-OT goal of the series. Rangers fans will never forget broadcaster Howie Rose's cries of "Matteau! Matteau!"
1994 Stanley Cup Final
New York's 54-year quest to recapture Lord Stanley's old silver mug came to an electrifying conclusion in the deafening confines of Madison Square Garden. The Rangers saw their leads of 2-0 and 3-1 trimmed and had to hang on through a tight third period that ended when the Canucks couldn't convert off a face-off in New York's end in the final ticks.
1993 Patrick Division Final
The scrappy Isles dethroned the two-time defending Cup champion Penguins of Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux as goaltender Glenn Healy (42 saves) weathered a first-period storm and hung tough after New York blew a 3-1 lead late in the third period. In OT, little-used winger David Volek was the unlikely hero, beating goalie Tom Barasso for his second tally of the game. Volek had scored only eight during the regular season.
1987 Patrick Division Semifinals
Known as the Easter Epic, the Isles and Caps battled in Washington through 69 minutes of extra play after New York's Bryan Trottier tied the game 2-2 with 5:22 left in regulation. At 1:57 a.m. — nearly seven hours after the opening face-off — Pat LaFontaine beat Caps goalie Bob Mason with the game-winner. Some players lost up to 15 pounds during the game and were reduced to taking 20-second mini-shifts. Isles goalie Kelly Hrudey made a whopping 73 saves.
1986 Smythe Division Finals
Steve Smith (5) probably still lies awake thinking about this one. The Oilers' bid for a third straight Stanley Cup was derailed when the young defenseman attempted a cross-ice pass from next to his own net early in the third period with the score tied 2-2. The puck hit Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr's leg and wound up in the net, giving Calgary the lead. Smith fell to the ice and buried his face in his gloves.
1979 Wales Conference Final
Don Cherry probably still lies awake thinking about this one. His Bruins had a 4-3 lead against the three-time defending Stanley Cup champions with four minutes left, but got caught with too many on the ice. Guy Lafleur's subsequent power-play goal tied the game with 74 seconds to go. Yvon Lambert delivered the crushing blow with a goal at 9:33 of OT.
1971 Stanley Cup Final
Montreal's rookie goalie Ken Dryden began cementing his legend by holding off the Blackhawks in Chicago long enough for his team to rally from a 2-0 hole late in the second period. Henri Richard scored the tying and decisive goals against Chicago's Hall of Fame netminder Tony Esposito.
1954 Stanley Cup Final
Diminutive winger Tony "Mighty Mouse" Leswick (inset) ended a defensive struggle with a goal at 4:29 of OT to give Detroit the Cup. Goalies Terry Sawchuk (Detroit) and Gerry McNeil (Montreal) seemed locked in until Leswick floated a shot that glanced off Canadiens defenseman Doug Harvey's glove and into the net. The match remains the last Game 7 to decide the championship in OT.
1950 Stanley Cup Final
The Red Wings were without Gordie Howe, who was sidelined by a fractured cheekbone and nose, but hard-working left winger Pete Babando (left, with Harry Lumley) stepped up to play the hero in front of the home crowd. He beat Rangers goalie Chuck Rayner after 28 minutes and 31 seconds of extra play to settle the first Stanley Cup Final decided by a Game 7 overtime.
They are done because Quenneville went all-in with the so-called Nuclear Option. Starting in the third period of Game 5 –the Hawks clawed back from a 3-goal deficit to tie the game, before losing in overtime – the coach put Toews and Kane together on the same line, a scary and somewhat awesome concentration of skill and speed which, yes, slightly diluted the potency of the team’s second line. So replete is this team with offensive talent that one barely noticed.
Kane, Toews and speedy young left winger, Brandon Saad, were greater than the sum of their parts, combining, in the final two games, for five goals. “When you add Keith to that mix,” said the scout, “that’s as close as you’re ever going to see to a five-on-five power play. It’s the Nuclear Option-Plus.”
As is their custom, the Blackhawks put rather a damper on the presentation of the tasteful, finely wrought Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, the silver trophy awarded the Western Conference champion. It sat on its table, none of the Blackhawks so much as touching it. To do so, some players believe, diminishes their chances of hoisting the Stanley Cup, a fortnight or so hence.
It wasn’t because they were too tired. As Keith said, a short while later, “I don’t think anybody’s tired this time of year.”