Marian Hossa's goal turned him from goat to hero as the Blackhawks won a thriller
CHICAGO -- As Patrick Kane pumped his arm and skated away from the goal he just scored on, Marian Hossa breathed a sigh of relief in the nearby penalty box. As the Blackhawks bench mobbed each other, mimicking their fans, the emotionally economical Joel Quenneville couldn't outwardly celebrate. But inside he was just another 300-level fan who couldn't believe what he just witnessed: A hockey miracle.
"I think I had the same emotion as everyone in the building," Quenneville said after Kane's perfectly timed goal tied Saturday's playoff game with 13.6 seconds left in regulation. "It was a pretty dramatical turn of events there."
Dramatical? Is that even a word? Actually it is. I looked it up. It's listed as a "rare or archaic" substitute for "dramatic" in one online dictionary. (On urbandictionary.com, it's described like so: "Flavor Flav ousted the DRAMATICAL girls." )
Yes, this game was certainly dramatical. And fantastical and life-affirming and series-changing for the Blackhawks, who pulled off the 5-4 overtime win in front of a sold-out crowd that turned into a mosh pit of bad haircuts, sweat-soaked jerseys, hugs and tears of utter contentment. The ice was riddled with the red rally towels the team gives away. I've been a fan in a situation like this before, and I can honestly say there's no feeling quite like it.
After four games that were skimpy on inspirational moments, this could've been the defining moment of what has turned into a wild first-round series.
With the win, capped off by a Hossa goal that was either redemptive or ill-fated, depending on your allegiance, the Blackhawks go to Nashville with a chance to close out this series in six games.
"There's usually a defining moment in each and every series," Quenneville said. "But, who knows?"
Who knows, indeed? When the Blackhawks had a 3-1 lead in the second period, it looked like a relatively easy win was on the way for the highly favored No. 2 seed, which was dominating in shots on goal. When the Predators, which went about nine minutes between SHOTS two times in this game, scored three straight goals to take a 4-3 lead midway through the third, it was déjà vu all over again.
When Hossa got a five-minute major for boarding with 1:03 left, it seemed destined that this team was fated to blow this series, as some kind of karmic punishment for being too good. After all, Chicago teams traffic in heartbreak, not championships.
Then with the team technically short-handed, though they pulled Antti Niemi (who wound up making some redemptive saves in overtime) to even it up, Kane crashed the net and instinctively stuck the rebound that went from Jonathan Toews' stick off Pekka Rinne's skate, and into the goal. And the United Center went berserk.
Kane, a blur on skates, made it hard for his teammates to celebrate with him. With his trademark arm pump powering his legs, he looked like he could've glided to Tennessee. Kane was feeding off the crowd and his own crystallized hero moment.
"Sharpie [Patrick Sharp] said he couldn't catch me after I scored," Kane said. "He said I was flying. He said he's glad he caught up to me. I would've done a couple hot laps there. But that's the best part about it, the emotion. That's why you play the game."
After the team came down from its emotional high, it went to the locker room knowing it would still be down a man for nearly four minutes in overtime. That the Hawks could finish a penalty kill, even against a lousy power-play team, for that long at the end of a draining game is a sure sign that this team still has that elusive championship verve, if it can close out Nashville, that is.
"That's the biggest thing, we just wanted to stay calm and even-keeled," Kane said. "I know that's tough for myself to say, because I was pumped up, and still am. But that's the biggest thing about the playoffs, just stay even-keeled."
In a moment tailor-made for a Disney movie, Hossa came out of the penalty box and 10 seconds later, found himself on the left side of the net when Brent Sopel's shot deflected his way. He put the rebound past Rinne and was immediately engulfed by teammates. It was the first goal this series for the Hawks' big free-agent pickup.
"I was jumping around like a little kid in the box when I see Patrick scoring," Hossa said. "The guys told me in the dressing room, 'We killed it for you. You're going to score.' It couldn't have been a better ending than this."
For a sport that struggles with the all-important, yet illusory TV ratings, this game turned into an NHL infomercial, with the game being shown nationally on NBC.
"That's why hockey is such a great game, you never know what can happen," Kane said. "We have a 3-1 lead, kind of give it away, 4-3. It looks like the game is over, we take a five-minute penalty, tie it up and Hossa comes out of the box and wins it. It's an awesome game to play, man."
Nashville coach Barry Trotz disagreed with the storybook ending, comparing Hossa's boarding of Dan Hamhuis to the play that sidelined Brian Campbell for the last few weeks of the season and the first three games of the playoffs. He said he'll trust the league's decision on enforcing a penalty on Hossa for Monday's Game 6.
"What's the difference between [Alex] Ovechkin's hit on Campbell and this play?" Trotz said. "It was unfortunate Hossa comes out and scores the winning goal; ironic how that works. But that's the way it is."
"I tried to go for the puck and the guy turned his back to me," Hossa explained. "But I couldn't stop the motion. I didn't want to hit like that. Obviously, you don't want to be that player."
Hossa went from Alex Gonzalez-like goat to great in the time it takes you to drive through Chicago traffic from Wrigley Field to the United Center.
"What a relief," he said. "What a great feeling."
Perhaps that will be a harbinger for the next game. The Hawks had lost two out of three before a relatively easy win in Nashville on Thursday, and by all rights, they should've lost this one too.
Kane said this reminded him of the gold-medal game in the Olympics, when the U.S. team tied it at 2-2 late. He was so sure the U.S. was going to beat Canada for the second time, but the Canadians won in overtime. This one turned out better for him, and of course, similar for gold medalists Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Toews.
"You have that feeling you were going to win," he said. "And I was just thinking, 'Let's just make this happen.'"
They did, and it was nothing if not dramatical.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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