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Sometimes you have to lose something to discover something else.
A puzzled look came across coach Bruce Boudreau’s face in the dying seconds of regulation. Words that perfectly suited that look of bewilderment followed after Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews scored an ugly goal against his Anaheim Ducks to send the game to overtime.
“How did that go in?” I saw Boudreau mouth as the CBC cameras panned the bench. His Ducks had given up leads of 3-0 and 4-2 over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 5 on Monday night, landing in overtime for a third time in the series.
Boudreau asked the question one more time.
The answer was an epic gaffe by goaltender Frederik Andersen, who somehow let the Hawks captain’s impossible-angle centering attempt bank in between his legs.
But because of the goaltender’s off night and Toews’ late heroics, Boudreau’s Ducks were able to discover an important element they’d been missing in the Western Conference Final.
A killer instinct.
It took just 45 seconds in the overtime period for Matt Beleskey to pounce on a rebound from Ryan Kesler’s shot on a two-on-one rush and smack it into the open side to give the Ducks a 5-4 victory over the Hawks.
It’s their first win in three overtime contests in the series. Previously, they’d dropped a 3-2 decision in triple OT in Game 2 and lost 5-4 in double overtime in Game 4.
In Game 5, they went from looking like they would cruise to an easy victory to appearing to be on the brink of a total collapse, the biggest choke jobs of the 2015 playoffs.
Despite the continuous pounding of the shortened Blackhawks blueliners and the resulting upper hand with first-period goals from Cam Fowler, Ryan Kesler and Sami Vatanen setting them up for success, the Ducks had to deal with one of the worst outings from Andersen. He gave up a softy to Teuvo Teravainen in the second period and then failed to anticipate the play on a shot from Brent Seabrook that cut the lead to 3-2.
And when Toews scored twice in the last two minutes to force another period, it looked like another overtime loss was inevitable.
But the Ducks are growing.
The Ducks have had one big knock on them this postseason and this series—they’re not as experienced as the Blackhawks—but they showed Monday that the experience is coming.
The finish was a great example.
“That was a great response,” Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, who contributed three assists on the night to pass his own franchise record for points in a playoff year with 19, said on the CBC broadcast postgame.
“It was just about preaching to learn about our mistakes from the overtimes earlier in this series. Obviously giving up two goals in the last two minutes, you never want to do that, especially against a team like that. But those guys go out there and make a big play like that; it’s huge for our group.”
Those guys are Kesler and Beleskey and defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who blocked a dump-in attempt by Bryan Bickell and got the puck up to the forwards.
Kesler was a beast all evening, in the faceoff dot with 14 wins in 19 attempts, and on the forecheck, where the Ducks made hay early and often.
They’re bigger, more physical and gradually grinding down the Hawks back end and Kesler led the way with seven of the team’s 41 hits on the night. He scored his sixth of the playoffs by creating space for himself with a hit on the end boards to make it 2-0 just 32 seconds after Fowler gave them the lead early in the first period.
The perfect game plan almost went to heck in a hand basket thanks to Andersen.
But the team came through.
The killer instinct kicked in.
“I said it’s our turn. Don’t get upset and hang your heads—get angry,” Boudreau told his troops in the overtime intermission, as seen in his NHL Network postgame presser. “Just come back and play the way you did in the first period and it will work out.”
It did, and the coach was happy to see the growth pick up Andersen, who has had plenty of great nights in the series so far.
Just not this one.
“He’s played so many good games in a row, and he’s bailed us out so often. He had an unfortunate couple of goals against today. It was time we bailed him out,” Boudreau said. “It was good to see that if he had a bad game that we were there to help him out a little bit.”
If the team can put everything together for Game 6 in Chicago, it won’t have to bail anyone out.
Instead, the Ducks can get ready to experience the Stanley Cup Final.
New York Times
Blackhawks Force Overtime, but the Ducks End It Quickly
New York Times
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