The NHL conference finals are providing springtime the drama that the NBA has mostly failed to give us. The New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks each tied up their series at 2-2, with the Blackhawks again going multiple overtimes to get the W, and this time turning back a stunning third period surge from Anaheim.
Chicago had just gotten what seemed like an insurance goal with 12:22 left to take a 3-1 lead. The Blackhawks had mostly controlled the flow of play with the lone exception of a sustained Duck attack late in the second period that produced their only goal. Then the madness started.
Anaheim quickly got a goal from Ryan Kesler to make it a game. Twenty-three seconds later, a foolish Blackhawk turnover led to a tying Duck goal from Matt Beleskey. While the turnover was bad and Beleskey’s shot a beautiful rocket to the upper left corner of the goal, it’s also fair to say that Chicago goalie Corey Crawford should have made the play. Nothing was blocking his vision.
Fourteen seconds later a goal that Crawford can’t be blamed for put Anaheim ahead. Two great players, Chicago’s Duncan Keith and Anaheim’s Corey Perry were positioned in front of the net as a shot went on goal. It was akin two basketball players fighting for position in the low post.
As Crawford made the save, Perry won the battle and got inside, able to poke in the puck on the opposite side of the net. Just an outstanding play from an outstanding player and the Ducks had the lead.
With a 4-3 lead on the ice and a 2-1 lead in games, Anaheim was ready to take firm control of these Western Conference Finals. But Chicago tied the game on a power play goal from Patrick Kane—a shot that goalie Frederik Andersen should have saved, but it slithered in underneath his legs. If Anaheim fails to win this series, that’s a play that’s going stick with them all summer.
What will also stick with Anaheim is not winning the game in the first overtime, a period they dominated by winning shots 17-5. Crawford redeemed himself by keeping his team alive and Chicago won in double overtime, getting a victory that goes along with their triple-OT win of Game 2.
OUT IN THE EAST
The New York-Tampa Bay series has provided its share of drama as well, although Game 4 wasn’t one of those cases. The struggles of Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist over the last two games was the story coming in, but Lundqvist made 38 saves in his team’s 5-1 win.
The story now needs to shift the struggles of Lightning netminder Ben Bishop, who allowed five goals on just 24 shots and also did not play well in Game 3. Tampa isn’t as dependent on Bishop as New York is on Lundqvist, but no NHL team wins a playoff series with its goalie consistently giving up 4-5 goals a night, if I might be pardoned for stating the obvious.
I’ve been tough on Ranger forward Rick Nash for his lack of aggressiveness. Nash awakened in time to help save his team’s season, taking five shots, scoring two goals and producing an assist. The five shots are what I’m most looking at—much like Tampa counterpart Steven Stamkos, Nash is one of those players who creates opportunity simply be letting it fly at the net. Sometimes at the opportunity is rewarded directly, like it was on Friday night. Other times the value is more indirect, but it’s always there.
But I can’t help but noting that TheSportsNotebook has gotten on the cases of both Nash and Stamkos and each have gotten it going shortly thereafter. I think I’ll have to send coaches Alain Vigneault and John Cooper an invoice for my motivational services.
The drama heightens the next two nights in Game 5. Madison Square Garden has the action in the East at 8 PM ET tonight. Memorial Day Night will be in Anaheim at 9 PM ET. Both games are on NBC Sports Network.