The Chicago Blackhawks weren't ready to give up on their dreams of winning consecutive Stanley Cup titles the last time out. The defending champions hope to stay alive for a second straight time tonight when they visit the Los Angeles Kings for Game 6 of the Western Conference Final.
The Blackhawks are attempting to return to the Cup Finals after falling behind three games to one in this postseason battle against Los Angeles. The Kings, who lost in five games to Chicago in last spring's conference finals, couldn't close out the Hawks in their first attempt on Wednesday, dropping a 5-4 double-overtime decision in the Windy City.
Chicago, which is trying to become the first team to win consecutive titles since Detroit in 1997 and '98, improved to 8-1 as the host in these playoffs with the Game 5 triumph, but it will have to win its first road game of the series to keep on playing. The Kings won Game 3 at the Staples Center by a 4-3 score and pushed their series lead to 3-1 with a 5-2 decision Monday night in the City of Angels.
All told, Los Angeles is 5-3 as the host this postseason and is 19-7 in home playoff games since the start of the 2012 playoffs, when the Kings won their only Stanley Cup title.
If the Blackhawks win Friday the clubs will meet Sunday evening in Chicago for a decisive Game 7.
Michal Handzus, a former L.A. King, provided the OT heroics for Chicago on Wednesday, scoring at 2:04 of the second overtime to send the series back to the Staples Center. Brandon Saad held the puck along the right wing below the circles and dished ahead to Handzus, who controlled the disc for a second before lifting a backhander under the crossbar to end the contest.
"Two guys went on him and I got open,"Handzus said of his linemate Saad. "I was surprised I got open like that but he waited and waited and gave me a great pass."
For Handzus, it was his first career postseason overtime score, and just his second playoff game-winner after recording the only goal in a 1-0 Flyers victory against Ottawa in the 2003 second round.
Saad ended up with a goal and two assists for the Blackhawks, who wasted a pair of early two-goal leads and fell behind by a goal before rallying to extend the series.
"We don't want the season to end now. We're having too much fun playing," Saad admitted.
Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Ben Smith also scored, while Patrick Kane notched a career playoff-high four helpers for Chicago. Kane became the first Blackhawk to assist on four goals in one playoff game since Steve Larmer did so on April 30, 1990 in a Norris Division final-clinching 8-2 rout of the St. Louis Blues .
Kane hasn't scored a goal since getting the OT winner and series clincher in Game 6 of Chicago's second-round series against Minnesota, but the reigning Conn Smythe winner has posted five assists over the last two games.
Corey Crawford looked shaky at times, but emerged with the win thanks to 40 saves.
On Thursday's off day, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews talked about keeping the pressure on Los Angeles from the start of tonight's battle.
"We're going to work on getting our first win on the road against this team," said Toews. "We want to stay with the mentality, that we're putting all the pressure on them. It's going to be tough for them to close it out and win that fourth game against us. We showed how resilient of a group we are last night. We're going to do it again."
Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik, Jarret Stoll and Tanner Pearson lit the lamp for L.A. Pearson's tally extended his point streak to six games, matching the Kings' postseason record for a rookie along with Warren Rychel (1993) and Daryl Evans (1982).
L.A. has the comfort of home ice on Friday to try and reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in the last three seasons, but the club knows the fourth win of a series can be extremely hard to come by.
"If anyone thinks that it's easy ... it's not easy," Kings forward Justin Williams said of closing out an opponent in the third round. "Attaining your ultimate goal is never easy and we're going to do our best to get it done."
Jonathan Quick took the loss despite stopping 40 pucks.
Kane had a hand in all three Blackhawk scores in the opening 20 minutes on Wednesday before notching the secondary assist on Handzus' winner. However, after going up by scores of 2-0 and 3-1 in the opening period, the Blackhawks found themselves down 4-3 heading into the final stanza of regulation, but Smith scored early in the third to even things.
Saad fired a low shot from the left wing that was kicked aside by Quick, but Smith beat his checker and potted the rebound for a 4-4 game just 77 seconds into the third period. The Blackhawks had a prime chance to win in regulation when Stoll committed a tripping infraction with 3:11 on the clock. Quick made two acrobatic stops, one from Kane and the rebound on Bryan Bickell early in the advantage and added two more before its completion.
Acting on adrenaline and instinct, the first overtime featured a dozen quality chances split between the clubs. Los Angeles claimed a 10-8 shot edge in a briskly-paced fourth period.
"Overtime, I've seen a lot of games, been involved in a lot of those," said Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville. "That might have been the greatest overtime I've seen."
The Blackhawks have come back from down 3-1 to win a series only once in their history, but it was last spring against Detroit, which won three of the first four games against Chicago in the Western Conference semifinals before losing the final three tilts. The Blackhawks also needed to win Game 7 in overtime to down the Red Wings.