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Michal Handzus’ goal gives Blackhawks momentum

Updated: June 30, 2014 12:55PM

Disaster was lurking all night for the Blackhawks. It was behind the net, around every corner and, much too often, right out in the open, cackling at them.

The NHL’s defending champions were in serious danger of not making a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final, a failure by any measure. Too harsh a judgment? No. Much is expected of those who have been given much. That’s how it is with these guys. It’s the Cup or nothing.

But as Wednesday night wore on, as the Hawks and Kings squeezed every last drop out of a magnificent Game 5 of the Western Conference final, something else set in, something like blissful acceptance: Whoever lost this game would have nothing to be ashamed of. Here were two great hockey teams swapping haymakers. Back and forth they went. On and on the game went. There would be no failure in whatever happened.

When the ice chips finally settled, the Hawks said, “Might as well be us.’’

They’re still alive after a 5-4 double-overtime victory over the Kings, thanks to Michal Handzus’ game-winner and to a team that could have packed it in after blowing leads of 2-0 and 3-1 but didn’t. Whether any of that will transfer to Game 6 in Los Angeles on Friday is probably in the eye of the beholder or the wearer of a particular team’s colors.

“A huge win for us,’’ said Patrick Kane, who had four assists.

The Hawks are hoping that the pressure now is on the Kings, who lead the series 3-2. A Hawks victory in L.A., and the series returns to the United Center for Game 7. And then, the thinking goes, anything is possible. Well, maybe.

What can’t be argued is that the Hawks refused to lose.

“The talk during the intermission was that it was too early to end the season now,’’ said Brandon Saad, who set up Handzus’ backhander with a perfect pass.

The first overtime was ferocious. At one point, the teams went almost eight minutes without a whistle, an eternity in hockey. But with neither club willing to give an inch and no referee willing to call a penalty, the clock ran. Legs got heavy. Adrenaline coursed through veins.

Both goalies were excellent. The scrums in front of the net became even more desperate, and still no one scored.

“It might have been the greatest overtime I’ve ever seen,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said.

The rest of the game wasn’t bad, either. The first period was a crazed exhibition of hockey that probably didn’t ease the minds of the Hawks or their fans. The Hawks led 3-2 after one. That doesn’t sound bad, not when you’ve lost three consecutive games to the Kings, but the Hawks had jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by defensemen Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya. That’s called momentum. They needed to get greedy, ridiculously greedy.

So what happened? Seabrook made an errant pass that led to a Jarret Stoll goal to cut the lead to 2-1. Given how the Hawks had faltered so often in this series, if the city could have been reduced to one word at that moment, it would have been, “Uh-oh.’’

But less than two minutes later, the Hawks made a statement. Saad, who had a great game, beat Kings goalie Jonathan Quick to make the score 3-1 and show that the team wasn’t going to fold at the first hint of trouble.

The Kings weren’t going away. They cut the lead to 3-2 on Marian Gaborik’s goal in the first, then tied it early in the second when Dustin Brown was allowed to loiter at the goalmouth. The Hawks’ defense was reverting back to its Game 4 atrociousness.

Then came a very bad goal allowed by Corey Crawford on a Tanner Pearson wrist shot to give L.A. a 4-3 lead in the second, and it was open season on the Hawks goalie, as usual. Crawford picked an awful time to give his critics ammunition.

It looked dire, and it was. But Ben Smith knocked in a Saad shot to tie the game 4-4 early in the third. The United Center went crazy. Disorder was restored. And anything was possible.

The talk in the Hawks’ locker room before overtime?

“Just stick with it,’’ Saad said. “There’s going to be a hero in here, we kept saying, and luckily we got one.’’

Momentum, the Hawks insist, is a real thing.

“It’s our turn right now to hold on to it,’’ Kane said.


Twitter: @morrisseyCST

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