The man known as “Captain Serious” wasn’t about to go down without a fight.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews had been through too much this season to head home on a somber flight from Phoenix. He had missed too many games because of a concussion, worked too hard to return to the ice, and spent too much time with his teammates for that.
That’s why Toews delivered with the game – and the season – on the line Saturday.
Toews won a faceoff, won a board battle, and won a one-on-one showdown with Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith to lift his team to a 2-1 overtime win in Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinals. The Hawks trimmed the series deficit to 3-2 with Game 6 set for 8 p.m. Monday at the United Center, where a raucous sellout crowd awaits.
Suddenly, anything seems possible again.
Toews’ goal at the 2:44 mark of the overtime period – of course, another overtime – saved the Hawks from what would have been an embarrassing exit after a short series with the hard-working but less-talented Coyotes. The Hawks talked about wanting more ugly goals heading into Game 5, but Toews lifted a beautiful wrist shot over Smith’s right shoulder to extend the series and send his teammates leaping off of the bench to celebrate.
As the Hawks swarmed Toews, the Coyotes cringed at a chance that got away.
Upon seeing Toews’ shot find the back of the net, Phoenix forward Daymond Langkow lifted his stick and smashed it over the crossbar. The stick broke into pieces and fell to the ice.
Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith appeared more reserved, but who knows what he said beneath that ugly mask of his. He was so good for so long during the game, stopping 36 of the first 37 shots he faced, but No. 38 is the one he will remember when he wakes up today.
Meanwhile, Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford earned a much needed confidence boost.
Several reasons existed for the Hawks’ 3-1 series deficit entering Saturday, and Crawford's overtime meltdowns might have been the most significant. But the Hawks’ coaching staff stuck with him in net, and he rewarded their decision by stopping 18 of 19 shots for the victory.
What regulation time lacked in highlights, it made up for in drama.
After a scoreless first period, the Coyotes struck quickly to start the second.
Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson pinched in to try to make a play on offense, and the Coyotes pounced on the bad gamble. The puck ended up on the stick of Coyotes forward Gilbert Brule, who raced down the right side of the ice and fired a rising shot past Crawford’s glove at the 2:46 mark of the second period.
Hawks defenseman Sami Lepisto desperately tried to skate back in time to provide his goaltender with some help, but he had no chance of catching Brule on the break.
At times, it seemed like the Hawks had no chance of catching the Coyotes.
Phoenix relies on a patient, defensive-minded game that is 10 parts boring and zero parts exciting. Much like the Nashville Predators, they wait for mistakes and allow very little wiggle room.
Speaking of mistakes, Hawks forward Viktor Stalberg made plenty of them.
Stalberg committed four penalties – four! – to put the Coyotes on the power play for more than 10 percent of the game. He was whistled for roughing in the first period, slashing and tripping in the second period and interference in the third period to force his team to play shorthanded.
Although the Hawks killed each of Stalberg’s penalties, it cost valuable time.
Fortunately, an unlikely hero preserved the Hawks’ chances with the season on the line.
Hawks defenseman Nick Leddy unleashed a slap shot from in front of the blue line that beat Smith at the 9:15 mark of the third period. Coyotes defenseman Rostislav Klesla laid on his belly to try to block the shot, but Leddy wisely lifted the puck for his first career playoff goal.
Leddy had a great chance to bury his second playoff goal on the power play with about 5:30 remaining in regulation, but he missed an open net with a rising shot that sailed over the crossbar. Teammate Patrick Sharp had a point-blank shot about 90 seconds later, but Smith stoned him.
And then came overtime.
And then came the captain.
Suddenly, anything seems possible again.