Die Another Day: Handzus goal (!) in 2OT sends series back to LA
The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Los Angeles Kings 5-4 in 2OT to force a game 6 back in Los Angeles.
You can't kill what's already dead. Michal Handzus, star of the hit AMC series "The Walking Dead," flipped a backhand shot over the glove of Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick to lead the Chicago Blackhawks to a thrilling victory over the Kings 5-4 in double-overtime. The Kings now lead the Western Conference Final 3-2.
The Blackhawks appeared down and out after game 4 and heading into the third period of game 5, but got sorely needed secondary scoring to stave off elimination.
The Hawks got a good start, as Brent Seabrook opened the scoring with a power play goal just over a minute into the game. Drew Doughty headed to the box 30 seconds after the opening faceoff for tripping Jonathan Toews, Seabrook unleashed a slapshot from the blue line that Jonathan Quick never saw, thanks to Andrew Shaw's screen. Oduya put home a rebound off of a Patrick Kane shot for the Hawks' second goal just over two-and-a-half minutes later.
Then things started to get ugly. Jarret Stoll scored on a net-mouth scramble where all 5 Hawks players and 3 Kings converged. None of the red sweaters could clear the puck, allowing Stoll to pot his 2nd of the playoffs. Saad scored a beauty to put the Hawks ahead 3-1, but the Hawks blew that lead and allowed the Kings to score 3 consecutive goals, LA eventually taking a 4-3 lead into the third period. Chicago looked poised to be bounced from the playoffs in 5 games for the first time since 2009. But the team did what it has done so well over in the Kane and Toews era; it fought back and fought back hard. The Hawks tied the game at 4 apiece on a goal from Ben Smith 1:17 into the third period. The score didn't change for another 40 minutes and 47 seconds until Handzus roofed a Brandon Saad pass over Quick for his second goal of the playoffs. It's been said time and time again, but it really is hard to count this team out of any game or series.
But this was just one game. The Hawks took care of business at home, but now they have to walk into Staples Center and force a game 7 back home on Sunday. If game 6 is anything like games 2-4 or the first two periods of this game, the Hawks will get June off. Play like the third period or the two overtimes, and we might get one more game in Chicago. Onto the observations.
The fancy stats can be found here.
I'm too tired to try and figure out the box stats so here is a link to the official game summary.
*The first overtime has to be in the conversation for best period of hockey in the playoffs, possibly the season. The run-and-gun play of the first overtime was absolutely breathtaking, although that may have been because I couldn't stop hyperventilating. It was the first time this series where both teams truly looked like the class of the Western Conference. More of this type of exciting play on Friday and more of the same result, please.
*Johnny Oduya's goal was one of the most prominent examples of the Hawks defensemen joining the play tonight but the play wouldn't have happened if it weren't for Patrick Kane. He led the rush and created his own scoring chance by simply carrying the puck into the zone and challenging the Kings defensemen. He got a good shot off that Quick couldn't control, leading to the rebound and the Oduya goal.
*Man alive, Brandon Saad is a monster. He and his linemates were the story of the game. The Saad-Shaw-Kane line was nigh unstoppable. Saad was a huge reason why. The sequence leading up to Saad's goal was as good as it gets. Saad pressured Slava Voynov into a defensive-zone turnover a few feet from the Kings' blue line. The puck slid to the left-half boards, where Patrick Kane backchecked Willie Mitchell, causing him to turn the puck back over to Saad. Saad drove to the net, passed it to Andrew Shaw who shot the puck. Saad continued heading to the net and was rewarded for it with a big juicy rebound from Quick. Saad also had the primary helper on Handzus' GWG with a slick pass to the Civil War veteran.
The line was all over the place tonight and created some amazing chances. Kane had 4 assists, quintupling his point total for the series. LA coach Darryl Sutterwill surely make adjustments for Friday's game 6 to help douse the fire the line created. Having the last change will help with that. But this line gives the Hawks a legitimate second line to roll out instead of the one-and-a-half they had been employing for the past few weeks.
The fancy stats on that line were pornographic. The line's combined CF Rel at even-strength was +48.7 percent. Here's the rub; the absolute value of the combined CF Rel numbers for Chicago's second and third lines is -10 percent. Which brings us to the next observation.
*The Hawks' third line was like if Joel Quenneville ate Taco Bell's entire breakfast menu in one sitting, puked it all up in one violent heave and then put it on the ice for 12 minutes. It was nothing short of atrocious. Versteeg-Handzus-Sharp combined for a -58.7 percent CF Rel at ES. Sharp was invisible yet again. Other than Handzus' GWG, his lack of speed and inability to provide any defensive value at all cost the Hawks the chance to roll out much of a third line tonight. Speaking of players forcing the Hawks to ice about 9 forwards for most of the night, Versteeg didn't even see a shift after the most abhorring shift of hockey I have ever seen in my life. He turned the puck over, and failed to clear his own zone, leading directly to the Kings' tying goal. If he's not in the press box for the remainder of the Hawks' season, then I truly don't know what it would take for such a situation to occur.
I'm not anticipating anything will change, but Quenneville either needs to throw Handzus in the press box for Peter Regin or accept the fact he will only have three usable lines. Kris Versteeg, on the other hand, will likely reunite with his 2010 teammate Kim Johnsson, when Quenneville sends Macklemore's freak spawn to Belize.
*This paragraph was originally going to criticize Corey Crawford's inability to make the saves when his team needed him to. Historically, we've seen him rebound after playing a bad game. He didn't do so in game 3 and again failed to recover in game 4. It looked like the same old song and dance early on in game 5, as Crawford seemed to fight off several shots and appeared to struggle settling into a rythym, letting up four goals, two of which were pretty awful. After the third period began, however, he was nails. It wasn't pretty but he kept the Hawks in the game. At the end of the day, that's all the Hawks need him to do. He finished the game stopping 40 of 44 shots and perhaps most notably, 6 of 6 on the PK. Oftentimes, the criticisms Crawford receives are more extreme than the situation calls for. They have been pretty justified in this series. If Crawford plays like he did in the first two periods of game 5 when the Hawks take the ice in Los Angeles, they're done. He will need to be at the top of his game on Friday if the Hawks plan on coming back home for a game 7.
*Q decided to split up the defense pairings tonight with mixed results. The possession numbers for the Oduya-Rozsival pairing look great but they look less than so for the Seabrook-Leddy pairing. Seabrook was at 38.2 percent CF for the evening and Leddy was essentially the same at 38.5 percent, and that's with 7-8-27-32 all playing relatively similar competition. Leddy and Seabrook were on the ice for both Stoll goal and the Dustin Brown goal. Keith and Seabrook have been on a bit of a steady decline in terms of possession numbers for a while, but the dropoff created by the separation seemed to be a helluva lot worse for Seabrook than it was for Keith. With that said, Keith got caught in-between on the Marian Gaborik goal, allowing the Kings to pull within one. Q rarely likes to change things up after a win, but it'll be interesting to see if he sticks with these pairings on Friday.
*Special teams didn't look awful for the first time all series. The Kings didn't score a power play goal for the first time in 10 years, which is a start. Without the benefit of the game on a DVR to back me up on this, the biggest difference between the horribad PK we saw the past few games andthe ones we saw today was Corey Crawford. The Kings were still able to get 6 shots on net on their 3 power plays but this time, Crawford stopped them all. Off the top of my head, the forwards seemed to do a better job of closing up shooting lanes as well. But the big difference was the man in net.
The Hawks scored on the power play, too, which was neat. Seabrook's goal was a simple slapshot with a forward providing the goalie screen. Amazing what happens when shots from the blueline get to the net COUGH DUNCAN KEITH COUGH.
*Shaw got hurt a little under three minutes left in the game. He played during the two overtime periods and seemed to be ok, but it is a situation to keep an eye out for. Losing Shaw again leaves the Hawks with only one effective scoring line.
6. Let's go Hawks.