Hawks winger Marcus Kruger celebrates his game winning goal against Anaheim in triple overtime of Game 2 of the Western Conference Final. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
The Blackhawks and Ducks played for nearly five hours and six full periods Tuesday before Marcus Krueger won it for Chicago in the third overtime period. But the toll taken on the Hawks – specifically, their defense corps – could play a huge role in the rest of the series, and perhaps, the Stanley Cup Final.
The Chicago Blackhawks played nearly two full games of hockey Tuesday, and by the time Game(s) 2 ended – four hours and 53 minutes after it began in Anaheim – they dodged a number of bullets and beat the Ducks to pull even in their Western Conference Final series.
The Hawks were outplayed by the Ducks for long stretches at Honda Center and Anaheim was the better possession team on the night. Chicago did storm out of the gate with a 2-0 lead on goals from Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa, but Anaheim cut Chicago's lead in half before the first intermission and dominated the visiting team in the second period, outshooting the Hawks 19-7 and tying the game on Corey Perry's eighth of the playoffs.
From then on, it was a goaltending duel for the ages, with both Corey Crawford and Frederik Andersen coming up with a number of huge saves to keep their team alive. The game nearly ended in the second overtime period when Andrew Shaw head-butted – that's correct, head-butted – the puck past Andersen:
However, NHL rule 78.5 states a goal will not count when a puck is "directed, batted or thrown into the net by an attacking player other than with a stick", so the teams played on. And on. And on. And on, to the point of exhaustion and delirium, until winger Marcus Kruger scored at 16:12 of the third overtime period to send the teams to the showers.
It was the longest game in Blackhawks history, and the second-longest in Ducks history. The stats that illustrate the marathon are astonishing, and could have an effect both in this series and in the Stanley Cup Final: Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith played a game-high 49:51, and three other Chicago defensemen – Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Nicklas Hjalmarsson – each played at least 46 minutes. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville clearly has little faith in veterans Kimmo Timonen and Kyle Cumiskey, who combined to play 34:51. That may come back to haunt the Blackhawks in the games to come, and certainly, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau will be pushing his players to press Chicago's top four defensemen and further wear them down.
That said, the Hawks defense corps was bailed out numerous times by Crawford, who made 60 saves on 62 Ducks shots and outlasted counterpart Andersen, who stopped 53 of 56 shots. If there's any drop in performance from Crawford, Chicago is going to be in big trouble against a relentless Anaheim squad that also out-hit them 71-45 and out-blocked them 35-29. The Ducks also forced their opponent's defense into making 16 turnovers – six from Oduya alone – and if their power play had been more effective (Anaheim had five man advantages, but scored on none), the game would have ended in regulation time.
Chicago now has a day or so to attempt to collect itself and draw energy from what promises to be a raucous home crowd at United Center. They've stolen home ice advantage from Anaheim – which lost only its second game of the entire post-season Tuesday – but they're far from out of the woods. In fact, they're about as deep in the woods as it gets. Nothing less than near-superhuman performances from Crawford, Keith and Seabrook in particular will get them to the Stanley Cup Final. They don't have enough depth on 'D' to spread out the minutes as Quenneville would prefer. This is an all-hands-on-deck situation, and whatever they've got left for the Eastern Conference champions is going to have to suffice.
The Ducks undoubtedly are down after a tough loss like this one, but there's reason for optimism in their dressing room. Their defensemen's minutes were more evenly-distributed – only veteran Francois Beauchemin (46:29) played as many minutes as Chicago's top four blueliners – and they came very close to going up 2-0 in the series a slew of times. Stars Ryan Getzlaf and Perry were often dangerous, as were a number of secondary players, including Kyle Palmieri (who had a game-best eight shots on net), Patrick Maroon (seven shots) and Andrew Cogliano (who had their first goal of the game).
If the Ducks continue challenging the Hawks as they did in Game 2, Chicago is going to need something equally special – and more than likely, equally fortunate – to what they got Tuesday in order to avoid elimination. A marathon win is an incredible achievement, but it doesn't count for anything more than a single win.
And the Blackhawks will need to play smarter and tighter if they're to win three more games against an Anaheim team that appears to be at least their equal.