With their heart-stopping 2-1 overtime victory against Detroit Wednesday, the Chicago Blackhawks became the first team in sports history to win a Game 7 twice in the same night. Well, not really. But it sure feels that way.
With under two minutes to go in regulation, Chicago’s Niklas Hjalmarsson blasted a perfect shot past Detroit’s Jimmy Howard for an apparent Blackhawks late lead. While the crowd erupted, no goal was posted on the scoreboard. Way behind the play, Detroit’s Kyle Quincey buried Chicagos’ Brandon Saad into the boards, leading to referee Stephen Walkom’s decision to call coincidental minor penalties on both players. The atrocious, inexplicable whistle erased Hjalmarsson’s goal and gave the Red Wings new life.
It was fitting that Scottie Pippen was in the building to root for the Blackhawks, because Walkom almost became the Hue Hollins of hockey in Chicago. But, unlike that horrible Hollins call in 1994 against the Bulls, this official blunder did not ultimately cost the resilient ‘Hawks.
The game remained tied as time expired, sending the deciding contest into overtime. The United Center had at least one collective heart event in the extra stanza with Corey Crawford having to make a tough stop, but all in all the overtime wasn’t too taxing. Thanks to Brent Seabrook. His wrister at the 3:35 mark found the back of the net and Chicago won. For real this time.
The Blackhawks will meet the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals.
The Red Wings led this series three games to one. They were winning Game 6 in the third period. Detroit could have finished the job. They didn’t.
I kept thinking of Dennis Green’s classic tirade in 2006 after his Arizona Cardinals blew a big lead against the Bears in front of a national audience. Green went ballistic in the postgame press conference saying, “They are who we thought they were and we let them off the hook!”
Perhaps Mike Babcock is thinking something similar. The Red Wings did let the Blackhawks off the hook. That’s bad news for the Kings and the two Eastern Conference teams remaining. Chicago is rejuvenated and more dangerous than ever.
A team that set a record for consecutive wins in the regular season was on the brink, but now they’re alive and well. The 1994 Bulls and 2006 Bears came up short in the end. After this test from their arch rival, don’t be surprised to see the Blackhawks skating a Stanley Cup around in a few weeks. If Wednesday night was any indication, the Blackhawks are who we thought they were.