CHICAGO, IL - MAY 28: Ben Smith #28 of the Chicago Blackhawks scores a goal on Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings to tie the game in the third period during Game Five of the Western Conference Final in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center on May 28, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
If they do it now, if the Blackhawks somehow come all the way back and return to the Stanley Cup Final and whatever comes
after that, this will be the one people
remember. This game, this moment, this jaw-dropping, head-spinning display of speed, skill, character and hockey at its finest.
Oh, they’ll remember the perfect start, then the disastrous middle. They’ll remember Ben Smith tying the score 77 seconds into the third period, and they’ll darn sure
remember Michal Handzus — of all people, Michal Handzus — winning it 2:04 into the second overtime.
After all, Handzus’ slick roofed backhander — off Brandon Saad’s third point and Patrick Kane’s fourth assist of the night — is what gave the Hawks a 5-4 victory Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings, staving off elimination in Game 5 of the Western Conference final and sending the series back to Los Angeles on Friday with the Kings holding a more precarious 3-2 lead.
But more than anything — if the Hawks do manage to come all the way back — people will remember a breathless, exhilarating, exhausting overtime that saw the Hawks and Kings throw everything they had at each other, that saw goalies Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick shake off poor starts for spectacular finishes, that saw endless chances and end-to-end action.
‘‘That might have been the greatest overtime I’ve ever seen,’’ said Hawks coach Joel Quenne-
ville, not a man prone to hyperbole.
The high-end play made it sensational, but it was the stakes that made it unforgettable. A Kings goal, and the Hawks’ defense of their Stanley Cup championship ends. A Hawks goal, and they get new life as a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 series deficit suddenly looks a lot more surmountable.
The crowd gasped with each Kings rush. The crowd roared with each Hawks rush . In between, the crowd held its collective breath as the teams spent nearly no time in the neutral zone, trading chances back and forth. At one point, nearly eight minutes passed without a whistle.
‘‘Overtime was crazy,’’ said Crawford, who said he had ‘‘no time to get nervous.’’ ‘‘It was loud in here, probably the loudest it’s been all year. Our crowd was cheering before whistles to get us going.’’
It was a taut finish to a loose game. Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya scored to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead less than four minutes in, but the perfect start appeared to be the beginning of the end. After Jarret Stoll and Saad traded goals, Marian Gaborik scored to make it 3-2, still in the first. Then Dustin Brown and Tanner Pearson scored in the second to make it 4-3 Kings, the fourth time this postseason the Hawks had wasted a two-goal lead.
But Duncan Keith said the Hawks never had any doubt. Never had time to, really.
‘‘You’re just playing,’’ he said. ‘‘Just stay positive and have faith in the team and in one another and in yourself. . . . We know we’ve got a lot of character in this room.’’
That includes the much-maligned Handzus, a penalty-killing specialist who struggled all season to keep up with Kane on the Hawks’ second line, lost the spot to Andrew Shaw, then returned there for overtime to score the goal of the season in the game of the season.