It was never supposed to be Marcus Kruger's moment. Patrick Kane? No doubt. Jonathan Toews? Sure. Even Andrew Shaw? Totally believable. Kruger, on the other hand, was probably one of the last players you would've expected to be there interviewing with NBCSN following a miraculous triple-overtime playoff win.
That's because Kruger, 24, has spent the past few years carving out a role as the Blackhawks' ultimate supporting forward, a disciplined, smart, penalty-killing machine content to battle in the corners while his more electric teammates took the goals -- and the spotlight.
Not many casual fans around the country likely heard of, let alone appreciated, Kruger before Tuesday night -- er, Wednesday morning. Now, the center will go down in Blackhawks history with one of the most clutch goals since 1926, a slap of a puck in mid-air that could ultimately define how the rest of this series plays out.
And really, to this Blackhawks fan, there's not a player I'd rather see awarded with that kind of moment. Kimmo Timonen, maybe, but he hasn't been in Chicago very long, played poorly Tuesday and has had his own highs during a long career. Teuvo Teravainen? He'll get his time in the limelight soon enough.
Kruger, on the other hand, is the kind of hard-working role player who doesn't play for the big goals in the biggest moments. His defining plays are usually on the penalty kill -- where Chicago was amazing in Game 2, by the way -- and he's always thrived in that role. The depth chart might call Kruger the No. 4 center, but anyone around the Hawks will happily explain how valuable he is in that spot.
It all makes what happened at the end of Game 2 that much more gratifying. Sure, the Blackhawks badly needed a win, and now the tone of the series is radically changed heading into Game 3. A loss and the resulting 2-0 hole would've put the team in an undeniably dire position against an opponent that's clearly prepared to make this a tough series.
Great players tend to step up in those tough moments, though, and Game 2 was a reminder of why Kruger is a pretty great player. His penalty-killing work was superb, the fourth line got regular chances throughout the game, and in the end, he was rewarded with arguably the biggest score of his career. After the Ducks rode some huge goals from their third line to a series-opening win, the Hawks' fourth line punched back. Even with Shaw's game-winner being disallowed, it was another fourth-liner stepping up to tie up this series. Kruger might not be a first-line world-beater, but his impact is not to be doubted.
I'm ridiculously tired right now, and maybe that's making me delirious, but it absolutely warmed my heart knowing that the Hawks not only won, but did so thanks to Krugs. He's been such an amazing part of this organization after the past few years, and deserves to be recognized on the national stage with a marquee highlight like this one. It happened once before, back in 2013 when he scored a game-winner in the playoffs against Minnesota, but this one feels even more special given the circumstances. We've loved Kruger around these parts for a long time -- now maybe the rest of the hockey world will start to see what's made us so appreciative.