A few hours before Anaheim took the ice in Arizona for its last regular-season game, Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf sized up an unusually wide-open Western Conference playoff race.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings did not qualify for the postseason, the San Jose Sharks joined them on the links and the mighty Blackhawks were struggling with a thin blue line.
"Those teams have had strong runs the last little while so at some point, something’s got to give," Getzlaf said. "It feels like an opportunity to turn some heads."
Anaheim is one win away from turning all those Western Conference heads and escaping the conference that has produced six of the last eight Stanley Cup champs. It took extra time again, and some highly anxious moments, but Matt Belesky’s rebound goal of Ryan Kesler’s shot just 45 seconds into overtime lifted Anaheim to a 5-4 win over Chicago on Monday at Honda Center, giving it a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals with Game 6 on Wednesday in Chicago.
"That’s the biggest goal I’ve ever scored," said Belesky, who gave his "best Bobby Orr" impersonation by diving after the goal. "It’s a great feeling any time you do that, especially here at home. We’re one game away from a Stanley Cup berth."
One game after scoring three goals in 37 seconds, the Ducks scored two goals 32 seconds apart in the first period and built leads of 3-0 and 4-2 before Chicago captain Jonathan Toews scored a pair of goals in the final two minutes of regulation to force the extra period.
"It’s Ducks hockey," Kesler said. "We don’t like to do anything easy."
Play of the day: If Anaheim’s psyche was bruised after blowing a two-goal lead in the final two minutes of regulation, it didn’t show. With the Blackhawks caught in a terrible line change, Ducks center Kesler andleft wing Belesky skated in on a 2-on-1 with defenseman Brent Seabrook defending. Crawford stopped Kesler’s initial shot, but Seabrook neither defended the shooter nor the trailer and Belesky had a wide open net to pump home the game-winner.
Turning Point: That brutal line change. Chicago forward Bryan Bickell dumped the puck in so the ‘Hawks could get a line change, but defenseman Johnny Oduya was late getting on the ice and Patrick Kane couldn’t recover in time to stop Belesky from banging home the rebound.Chicago’s miraculous rally was for naught.
1. Ryan Kesler, C, Anaheim. Kesler scored a high-degree-of-difficulty goal and had the assist on Belesky’s game-winning goal.
2. Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago. Chicago’s captain had a pair of goals in the game’s final 1:50 to rally the Blackhawks from a 4-2 deficit and force overtime.
3. Sami Vatanen, D, Anaheim. Vatanen had a goal, an assist and finished plus-two with a superb defensive performance.
Anaheim Ducks 5, Chicago Blackhawks 4 (OT)
Series: Anaheimleads 3-2.
Key stat: The Blackhawks played 16:20 before recording their first shot on goal.
Key stat II: The Blackhawks have been outscored 20-9 in games following their four multiple-overtime games in this postseason. They are 0-4 in those games.
Best visual: Corey Crawford’s flop. Bill Laimbeer, Vlade Divac and Manu Gibobili nodded with approval after Chicago’s goaltender delivered this dramatic flop off minimal contact from Anaheim forward Jiri Sekac.
Best visual II: Angry Toews. Shortly after the Blackhawks cut the Ducks’ lead to 3-1, Chicago’s Toews made a great individual rush but just missed on the finish. Here is his reaction afterward on the bench. Toews made up for it with two goals in the final two minutes of regulation.
Teuvo time: Teuvo Teravainen was (inexplicably) a healthy scratch in a Game 3 loss. In the two games since, he has three points including the goal that started the Blackhawks’ ill-fated rally on Monday. He added a sweet dish to Seabrook for a late second-period goal that fueled Chicago’s momentum.
Slick stick: The P.A. announcer was still delivering the particulars of Anaheim’s first goal when Jakob Silfverberg set up the second one. He corralled a puck high in the zone and sent a knuckleball toward the far post. With ‘Hawks defenseman Kyle Cumiskey shadowing him, Kesler somehow got his stick on the puck, redirecting it inside the near post and past Crawford, who was moving to his left and had no chance.
Best at being worst:Frederik Andersen, G, Anaheim. Andersen’s has been very good in the postseason, but he was very bad on Monday, allowing four goals on 28 shots. He allowed Teravainen’s soft goal between his legs to open Chicago’s scoring, he allowed Seabrook’s short-side goal from a bad angle and he allowed one of the worst goals you will ever see with 38 seconds left. The blade of Toews’ stick was literally below the goal line when he released a shot that Andersen kicked in.
Best quote: "Most guys, if not everybody in this room, definitely believes that’s when we play our best is when our backs are against the wall." — Chicago captain Jonathan Toews
What we learned: Anaheim has been the better team in this series. If not for a couple crazy multiple-overtime affairs and the Blackhawks’ playoff savvy, this series would be over already.Chicago gets the next game at home and if it wins, it will set up a winner-take-all Game 7 in Anaheim where the Ducks’ home-ice advantage will be matched against a team with unparalleled playoff experience. Here’s hoping we get to witness that matchup. This series has been terrific.
Next game: Game 6, Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET at United Center in Chicago.
Final thought: The New York Rangers have been a resilient bunch this postseason, rallying from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference semifinals. But New York is facing a monumental task in attempting to rally from a 3-2 deficit against Tampa Bay. The Lightning are faster, the Lightning are more skilled and the Lightning are brimming with confidence as they look to close out the Rangers in Game 6 at Amalie Arena on Tuesday. With goalie Henrik Lundqvist aging, the Rangers’ Cup window could be short. For the second straight year, New York could fall tantalizing short of its goal.