Waking up the next morning, it’s still kind of hard to believe the Ducks won that game. After choking away a three-goal lead amassed before the Blackhawks registered their first shot, and after conceding two goals to Jonathan Toews in the game’s final 1:50, Chicago completing the comeback felt like a fait accompli, overtime just a formality. And then the Ducks scored. Huh.
When a team is a win away from the Stanley Cup Finals, it’s probably too late to be wondering if they’re for real. But it’s hard to mentally separate these Ducks from their immediate predecessors, and to specify just how much that matters. Maybe Anaheim shook off the bad juju and scored early in OT because they’re a hair better than last year’s or 2013’s Ducks. Maybe Chicago couldn’t close the deal because they’re a shade worse than the last couple years’ editions. Or maybe this is all just weighted randomness, and the Ducks snatched victory from defeat from victory because weird shit happens in hockey sometime.
On a smaller scale, you can endlessly debate the credit for and meaning of Toews’s second, a zero-angle shot with 38 seconds left. Does Toews deserve any praise for chucking it on Frederik Andersen rather than to Hossa sitting behind the net? Or was this just such a disaster on Andersen’s part that we shouldn’t read too much into the Hawks’ comeback chops?
It was the sort of goal you almost expect from the Hawks, because you can’t be as successful as they have without having some major bounces go your way. (They’ve also been good enough to make their own luck.) It deflated the Honda Center, but not, apparently, the Anaheim locker room. It’s easy to claim now, given how everything shook out, but the Ducks say that potential heartbreak-of-physics goal only made them mad.
Before the start of OT, coach Bruce Boudreau impressed upon his players that they had been unfairly treated by the universe, and betrayed by their own laxity, and that it wasn’t too late to funnel that frustration into something constructive.
“I said, ‘It’s our turn,’” Boudreau recalled saying. “’Don’t be upset and hang your heads. Get angry. Get just really mad that we sort of pissed it away a little bit. Just come back and play the way you did in the first period. Things will work out.’”
Ryan Kesler, too, says anger was sufficient motivation.
“We were pissed,” Kesler said. “We were mad coming in here. When this team gets mad, we make strides on the ice and you can see right off the bat we were mad and we were playing mad and we scored right away.”
It was Kesler with the gamewinning assist—a “pad pass,” as he put it, a hard wrister off of Crawford designed to leave a rebound. It fell right to Matt Beleskey, who said he shot as hard as he could, then celebrated with “my best Bobby Orr dive.”
I think we’re all beyond trying to predict anything in this series, even within a single game. Momentum means nothing. On Saturday, Anaheim scored three times in 37 seconds, only to fall in OT. Last night, Toews’s heroics were ultimately meaningless. (In a way, it’s been self-correcting; each time, the team that dominated for longer ended up triumphing over the one that managed the abrupt comeback. These lurching games have ultimately settled in favor of the better team in the contest. But which is the better team overall? That’s a wonderful question that won’t necessarily be settled by the end of the series.)
That the Ducks head to Chicago with the most recent victory and all the confidence in the world will only serve them until the first puck finds the net on Wednesday. And there’s no reason to assume which net that’ll be. This series feels close enough and random enough that it deserves to go seven games. I’m hoping for that too—but I wouldn’t dare predict it.