Anaheim's Matt Beleskey celebrates scoring the game winning overtime goal Monday in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
The Ducks stormed out to a 3-0 lead Monday in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final, but the Hawks overcame a terrible first period to tie the score late in the third on a thrilling Jonathan Toews goal. Anaheim won it early in overtime, but this incredibly entertaining series is far from over.
In what has been a magnificent marathon of a Western Conference Final, the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks have been more or less each other's equal. Through the first four games of the series, neither team was able to win two in a row, three contests were one-goal games, and two games led to 11 total periods of hockey. In a strange way, that was the case Monday night for Game 5 as well, with some solid and awful play from both sides – but by the time Ducks winger Matt Beleskey scored 45 seconds into the fourth period of hockey, it was clear Chicago was a little more depleted and a little less deep than Anaheim where they need to be.
And for that reason, the Ducks hold a 3-2 series lead after their 5-4 overtime victory at Honda Center.
The Ducks charged out of the gate like gangbusters, and the gang they busted was a Hawks squad that looked exhausted after playing nearly 17 full periods of hockey in the first four games of the series. Cornerstone defenseman Brent Seabrook and many of his teammates were running on the fumes of fumes, which is why Anaheim jumped out to a 2-0 lead with goals 32 seconds apart just five minutes into the opening frame, and why the Ducks extended their lead to 3-0 before the first intermission arrived. The Hawks didn't get their first shot on net until 16:20 of the first period. One more goal, and it was likely goalie Corey Crawford was going to be removed in favor of Scott Darling.
However, the Blackhawks flipped the script in the middle frame, outshooting Anaheim 13-5 – and, more importantly, getting back in the game: rookie Teuvo Teravainen's second of the playoffs at 1:11 of the second period got Chicago on the scoreboard, and the Hawks then got some good fortune on a Brent Seabrook goal – that Anaheim goalie Frederik Andersen should've stopped – with 25 seconds left in the period to make it 3-2 for the home team after 40 minutes.
When Ducks winger Patrick Maroon made it 4-2 with 5:15 remaining in the third, it looked as if the Hawks had run out of steam. But these Hawks are famous for storing extra steam on their persons for exactly these types of occasions. And Chicago captain Jonathan Toews let off some of his by scoring his sixth and seventh goals of the playoffs in the final two minutes – including the game-tying goal from a bad angle with 38 seconds left.
In the final tally, it was clear Game 5 was neither Andersen's nor Crawford's best post-season performance this year, so you couldn't argue either team had an edge in net. Chicago finished with better possession numbers, but the teams finished tied in shots at 28 apiece. Anaheim had more giveaways, but the Ducks dominated the faceoff circle, winning 39 of 65 draws. The biggest differences, it seemed, were (a) the massive hole the Hawks dug for themselves at the start of Game 5; (b) the increasingly negative effect of heavy minutes on their best defensemen, and (c) their inability to carry over the late-third-period momentum Toews gave them into overtime.
But for that same reason, it would be unwise to imagine the Ducks will carry any great advantage into Game 6 Wednesday at United Center. There's just not that much that separates these teams, good and bad – and while that's made for the best series of the entire NHL post-season thus far, it also will give supporters of both sides plenty of anxiety as the roller-coaster carries on for at least one more game.
The only thing we can be assured of is more incredible performances like we saw Monday. And for fans of the game itself, that's the best news possible.