By Chris Emma-
(CBS) A wild Game 5 in Anaheim ended Monday night with the Blackhawks falling in overtime for the first time this postseason, that following an improbable comeback to reach this point. With the Ducks’ 5-4 victory, the Western Conference Final returns to Chicago on Wednesday night with the home team down 3-2 and looking to stave off elimination.
Let’s take a look at five key thoughts from Game 5.
1.) Freeze frame
Without any doubt, the Ducks’ three-goal first period was the Blackhawks’ worst stretch of play in the playoffs. Chicago matched with three shots on goal and got pounded in the faceoff circle. Everything seemed to go wrong for the visitors.
But then the horn sounded and both teams went back to the locker room. Coach Joel Quenneville likely said a few four-letter words, Jonathan Toews surely showed his trademark scowl and then the Blackhawks emerged for the second period. As horribly as the first period went, this marked the seventh time Chicago allowed three goals in a period this postseason — it allowed three in 37 seconds in Game 4 — and its record stood at 4-2 in those games.
It shouldn’t have surprised that the Blackhawks were better in the following two periods, and that they dramatically forced an overtime. This is where experience shows itself. The Blackhawks were able to better control possession and create scoring chances. Chicago adjusted and made this a game.
2.) Captain Clutch
A deke and drive to the net for Toews in the second period ended with Anaheim goalie Frederik Andersen’s blocker breaking up the scoring chance. The play continued in the Blackhawks’ offensive zone, but no goal would come of it. Toews then returned to the bench and took out frustration on his stick. The captain wanted this goal — and the game.
What happened with Toews in the third period was something special. He scored two goals in 1:12, the last with just more than a half-minute left, with Corey Crawford on the bench and the net empty, to tie the game 4-4.
Comebacks like that aren’t supposed to happen in the final minutes. What Toews pulled was something near improbable. From the Blackhawks’ perspective, none of it mattered, as a 3-2 series deficit followed.
3.) Hawks not hiding D-man issues
Quenneville has attempted to conceal his team’s lack of depth at the blue line. The losses of Michal Rozsival and Stephen Johns coupled with the inconsistencies of David Rundblad have forced Quenneville to essentially rotate a four-defenseman rotation, only using the struggling Kimmo Timonen and inexperienced Kyle Cumiskey for a few minutes here and there, bringing each to the ice in safe scenarios.
However, lapses like the Blackhawks have experienced can be directly attributed to defensive lapses. Timonen was on the ice for two Anaheim goals in just 8:06 on the ice, and he was to blame for the Ducks’ fourth tally. Cumiskey had two giveaways and was on the ice for a goal, too.
While it’s nice to think Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson have no end to their gas tank and can play nearly half the game, their legs get tired. Whether it’s the three-goal burst from Game 4 or the various breakdowns of Game 5, the Blackhawks’ lack of depth in defensemen is beginning to show its struggles.
4.) Disastrous dumps
One of the marks of a championship-level team is dictating the game with disciplined play. In hockey, careful dumps can kick a foe out of its offensive zone or establish the puck for scoring chances. In the case of the Blackhawks in Game 5, their dumps proved to be costly.
Anaheim’s fourth goal came when Timonen retrieved the puck and attempted to connect with Patrick Sharp as a cutoff man. Instead, Sharp couldn’t corral the puck and it ended with Patrick Maroon burying a one-timer past Crawford.
On the Ducks’ game-winning goal, Bryan Bickell attempted to dump the puck into the Blackhawks’ offensive zone at the end of a shift, while Joel Quenneville got a line change. His careless attempt was picked off by Francois Beauchemin, whose stretch pass beat the open neutral ice and put Brent Seabrook on an island with Ryan Kesler and Matt Beleskey.
Had Bickell operated with caution and worked the puck around the boards, the Blackhawks would’ve had a chance to establish in their offensive zone. Instead, the Ducks turned a giveaway into the game-winning two-on-one situation and Beleskey’s goal.
5.) Not over yet
Following a long flight from Anaheim, the Blackhawks will have moved on to Game 6. A quiet commute offers the players and coaches time to consider how close they were to a 3-2 series lead and what must happen to win the next two games. But there’s no reason to think Chicago can’t still win this series.
If these first five series games have taught us anything, it’s that these two teams are evenly matched. The margin of victory — or defeat — is slim. The Blackhawks have their home ice to defend in Wednesday’s Game 6, then can take it back to the left coast for a Game 7.
The Blackhawks must play their most consistent, best hockey in these next two games. They must eliminate careless giveaways and be smart with the puck. However, Chicago has all the weapons to beat Anaheim in these next two games. The effort must be rounded, and mistakes must be limited.
This Western Conference Final isn’t over just yet.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.