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Ben Smith’s OT goal keeps Blackhawks alive, forces Game 7

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

The Vancouver Canucks pulled out all the stops, including the player in charge of making stops. They were hell-bent on finishing off the Blackhawks in Game 6. This was their Game 7.

But there will be a real Game 7.

The Blackhawks managed to find a way to make sure of that Sunday night — in dramatic, wild fashion. Rookie winger Ben Smith was the unlikely hero for the Hawks, lifting in a rebound over goalie Roberto Luongo with 4:30 left in overtime to give the Hawks a 4-3 victory at the United Center.

The Hawks have rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to force a final game in Vancouver on Tuesday. The Hawks have a chance to become the fourth team in NHL history to rally out of such a daunting hole and advance.

“To see [Smith] score that last one put smiles on everybody in this rink and everybody in this room,” winger Bryan Bickell said. “Live another day. Game 7, anything can go.”

The Canucks said they were approaching the game Sunday like it was their last of the series. They had seen enough of the Hawks dazzling and dominating them in Games 4 and 5.

They effectively made adjustments to slow up the Hawks’ offense — one of the those “perfect” road games —but the shock of the day came from Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. He made the surprise decision — a “gut feeling” he called it after the game — to turn to rookie Cory Schneider in goal over Luongo, who was chased in Games 4 and 5.

“It’s easy to get caught up in what they’re trying to do,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “Obviously, they’re trying to change things up a little bit as a team. But we said, ‘You know what? The heck to what they’re doing.’ Their strategy might change, but it doesn’t mean ours is going to change.

“You had to imagine tonight was going to be a tighter game than the last couple. This is playoff hockey. You have to find a way.”

It was a wild one. And the Hawks found a way, like Toews said, despite falling behind three times and having a hapless power play, which included a horrid 5-on-3 advantage in the second. Bickell, Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik (penalty shot) scored in regulation for the Hawks, who were considerably slowed down by the Canucks when compared to Games 4 and 5.

There was nothing pretty about the Canucks’ goals, but they all came at back-breaking, momentum-stealing times. Daniel Sedin put in a bouncing wraparound goal two minutes into the game; Alex Burrows fired in a shot from the top of the slot after a failed clear by Chris Campoli with 1:12 left in the first; and Kevin Bieksa put in a rebound 58 seconds into the third.

But the Hawks found a way.

Frolik’s nifty penalty shot at 2:31 in the third period — the first converted penalty shot in team playoff history — hurt Schneider (17 saves) and Luongo came in. It could have been an emotional turnaround for the goalie and a surprising way to eliminate the team that has tormented him.

But it wasn’t meant to be, despite the dominance the Canucks displayed in the extra period. Strong puck possession by Marian Hossa, a long shot from Niklas Hjalmarsson and a long rebound led to Smith’s game-winner.

“It feels great, but nothing is done yet,” said goalie Corey Crawford, who made 32 saves. “We’ve got one more left. We have to keep the momentum, keep battling because the next one is going to be even harder.”

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