12:58 AM CDT, April 22, 2012
For most of Game 5 of the Blackhawks’ playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes, you couldn’t find Jonathan Toews.
At the end, you couldn’t miss him.
Uncharacteristically, the Coyotes made a mistake, icing the puck 2:38 into overtime to give the Hawks an offensive zone faceoff. Toews won the draw, the puck skittering to the boards. Then, suddenly, it caromed into the right circle to the Hawks’ captain, who is still probably fighting the effects of a concussion.
But Toews couldn’t have been more clear-headed on this play. Remarkably, he had some time and space in a dangerous area, a rarity for the Hawks in this series. Instead of panicking, Toews sized up the situation like he was shooting one of those candy commercials.
Firing from the right circle, Toews beat Phoenix goalie Mike Smith to the stick side, ringing the puck high off the far post for a 2-1 win at 2:44 of the extra period that kept alive the Hawks' playoff life.
And so, after the fifth straight overtime game of this series, the Hawks come home for Game 6 on Monday. They will battle elimination again -- this sounds like Vancouver last year, doesn’t it? -- and they will battle the strange odds of a series in which the visiting team has won four of the five.
Joel Quenneville had called out his big names the day before. The Hawks coach said he needed more from them. Toews heard. Toews responded. The Hawks’ best player hadn’t scored since early in Game 1, a lifetime ago, it seemed. Toews was getting too much ice time to be that quiet. He needed this one.
You know who else needed it? Corey Crawford, that’s who.
The Hawks goalie needed overtime, specifically a win in overtime. Crawford made 17 stops in regulation in Game 5, but then, he has made a lot of stops in regulation. It was overtime that had killed Crawford. He was coming off consecutive games in which he had allowed awful goals that became game-winners in overtime.
Mikkel Boedker was the villain both times. But not Saturday night. Crawford made the only save he was required to make in overtime and stoned the Coyotes after Gilbert Brule beat him on an odd-man break early in the second period.
You know else also needed this one? Viktor Stalberg. The Hawks forward had taken four penalties before the game was 44 minutes old. It was surprising he was getting shifts after the way he had sabotaged his teammates in a must-win.
But look at that: Stalberg battled along the boards after Toews won that critical faceoff, doing enough to help pop the puck loose so Toews could play hero.
You know who else needed this one? Nick Leddy. The young defenseman had played a lot in this series, but he had not necessarily played well. He was one of the goats on the play that lost Game 4.
But look at that: As the Hawks stepped up their urgent play in the third period, Leddy blasted a knuckling puck over a screened Smith midway through the third period to get the Hawks even and set up overtime.
It was a redemptive night for a lot of Hawks -- all of them, really.
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