By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) — An hour before puck drop at the United Center on Friday night, with the Western Conference semifinals set to begin, Teuvo Teravainen hid in the most quiet corner of the Madhouse on Madison.
The Blackhawks’ rookie forward sat in peace, buried away in the bowels of the building, stretching his legs while maintaining his game face. He appeared poised and ready amid the serene pregame setting — his hideaway from the chaos that would come.
Perhaps Teravainen could feel what was ahead, that he would go from tucked away in a quiet corner to bringing the building into a frenzy. This was his night — a 4-3 victory over Minnesota that saw Teravainen score the game-winning goal with 59 seconds left in the second period.
“A game like this, to score the game-winner, it’s something you always dream about,” Teravainen said after the win.
For all the flash and skill the 20-year-old from Finland brings to the ice, this game-winning goal was one of the “greasy” variety. Teravainen recognized an opportunity in the offensive zone, positioning himself just right to put the puck in front of Minnesota goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Somehow, it trickled in.
Following the Wild lighting the lamp three straight times in the second period to tie the score 3-3, Teravainen won the game for Chicago and gave the home team a 1-0 series lead.
“I just got the puck and tried to shoot to the net,” Teravainen said. “It may have surprised the goalie.”
One would assume Teravainen’s dream of that winning goal didn’t pan out with him just throwing the puck toward the net. He specializes in speed and pure hockey skill. Teravainen would love to blast down the ice, deke out a defender or two and fool Dubnyk, leaving him down in the crease wearing the look of disbelief.
Instead, he simply put the puck on net and it went in.
All Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville cares about is that Teravainen is in the right position and making the smart play. After Quenneville scratched Teravainen for the final four games of the first-round series against Nashville, he instilled trust by putting him on the third line Friday, alongside Antoine Vermette and Patrick Sharp.
When the game was won, Teravainen was honored as the number one star of the game.
“He’s a confident guy with the way he plays the game,” Quenneville said.
Teravainen made his NHL debut last season, playing three games and appearing out of his element. He got another shot this January and wasn’t quite ready. He was raw, overmatched and sent back to the AHL. The Blackhawks’ top prospect had a long way to climb.
But the third stint was the charm, as Teravainen stuck with the Blackhawks. He finished with just four goals and five assists in 34 games but proved he belongs in Chicago, not Rockford.
“He’s getting stronger and stronger,” Marian Hossa said of Teravainen. “He’s such a smart and skilled player. We’re going to play more of these tougher games, and he’s going to get better and better.”
Added Niklas Hjalmarsson: “You can see he’s a special player with the way he handles the puck and the vision he has. He does stuff in practice that kind of amazes you.”
It’s hard to question perspective here. Teravainen is so young to the NHL game and continues to display his abilities. Every game becomes a new showcase for that constant improvement. The Blackhawks may have a rising talent to join their championship core. Right now, Teravainen is just beginning his bright career and helping his team win.
A moment like what came on Friday night shines the spotlight on what a tremendous career Teravainen can enjoy in a Blackhawks sweater. At the very least, it was a milestone in that growth.
“I’ve got a lot of experience, and I think I’m getting better all the time,” he said.
Yet, for all that Teravainen can do with the puck, this magical moment was marked by simplicity. Few cared when Chelsea Dagger played for the sellout crowd.
The night that belonged to Teravainen began in a quiet United Center corner and ended with a raucous salute from the home crowd. This was the first of many for the Blackhawks’ bright young star in the making.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.