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Blackhawks, fans can breathe again after tense Game 7

Chicago Blackhawks Vs Detroit Red Wings Game No.7   1St Period  Blackhawks Marian Hossleft ; Jonathan Toews battles

Chicago Blackhawks Vs Detroit Red Wings Game No.7 1St Period Blackhawks Marian Hossa left ; and Jonathan Toews battles with Detroit Red Wings battles with Pavel Datsyuk. Wednesday May 29, 2013 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 2, 2013 7:17AM



If you want to know exactly how Brent Seabrook scored the game-winning goal in overtime Wednesday night, don’t ask him. But if you want to experience hockey’s fog of war, a blurry place of pure reactions and muscle memory, take an unsteady walk with him:

‘‘It bounced off something, and then I don’t know, Kronwall was coming up the middle and I had some room. I don’t know. I didn’t really know what was going on. I tried to get the puck on net.’’

To be more precise, Seabrook’s shot deflected off defenseman Niklas Kronwall’s shin pad, past Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard and into Chicago lore. The 2-1 victory in Game 7 sent the top-seeded Blackhawks into the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Kings. A wobbly world was back to spinning properly on its axis.

What a crazy, wonderful brute of a series. The team that had, yes, skated through the regular season found all sorts of trouble against the Red Wings, at one point falling behind three games to one and peering over the edge of disaster.

‘‘You do what you’ve got to do,’’ Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. ‘‘We dug deep, and we found a way. To come out on top, given the situation we were in three games ago, it’s pretty amazing.’’

It is indeed. Seabrook’s goal 3:35 into overtime sent the United Center crowd into a frenzy. The tension of the night had held those people hostage from the opening faceoff. The Hawks had taken what seemed like an all-important 1-0 lead in the second period, gave it up on a bad play in the third period and watched a Niklas Hjalmarsson goal get waved off because of dueling roughing penalties.

How much more could anyone take?

There was so much at stake. If the Blackhawks fell, major offseason remodeling likely would be on the way. Maybe the general manager would get the ax. Maybe the coach would go. Who knew? It’s what happens when expectations reach their cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. It’s what happens when the three seasons after the 2010 Stanley Cup title end in two first-round losses and one second-round loss.

Who stays, who goes?

But there was Seabrook to save the day.

‘‘[Coach Joel Quenneville] talks about putting pucks on net all the time,’’ he said. ‘‘Anything can happen in a tight series like this. We were talking about it in the room — it was going to take an ugly goal to win this, a bounce or something. Luckily, we got the bounce.’’

The Hawks seemed to have taken a 2-1 lead after Hjalmarsson blasted a shot past Howard with 1:49 left in regulation, but officials had called roughing penalties on the Hawks’ Brandon Saad and the Red Wings’ Kyle Quincey, whistling the play dead. The UC crowd seemed to be very anti-establishment at that point, in that it wanted to kill the refs.

But then overtime came around, full of hope and possibility, even if the Red Wings had outplayed the Hawks in the third period. Anything could happen now, and it did.

The Red Wings were a seventh seed that played like a No. 2 seed. They were every bit as good as the Hawks were.

‘‘I’m more in shock more than anything,’’ Red Wings defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. ‘‘We battled really hard, and I thought with how hard we competed in the third period, we had the momentum going our way, and heading into overtime we felt pretty good about our chances. Then, all of a sudden, one shot and your whole season is over.’’

That’s how it works in hockey, a sport of strange bounces that can bring grown men to their knees with a shot on net. One shot. One goal.

‘‘We won three in a row, and then they won three in a row,’’ Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said of the series. ‘‘We should have won the first one.’’

Now we’ll see how much the Hawks can take away from this series. Now we’ll see if they’ve learned their lesson — that the playoffs is not the place to see if you can turn it on when you want. That’s not going to work against the talented Kings.

I think they get that now. The team that put together a massive consecutive-point streak to start the season is back. It has a goalie in Corey Crawford who can carry a team if need be. Now the Hawks know for sure.

They know what happened Wednesday night is not an end in itself.

‘‘We should enjoy it for another couple hours,’’ Seabrook said. ‘‘Our main goal is still ahead of us.’’



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