Whew! ‘Hawks survive 2OT thriller … now for the hard part

Chicago's Brandon Saad (center) celebrates after scoring in the first period against the Kings in Game 5.

Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

Playoff hockey in the stacked Western Conference: There is nothing comparable.

Chicago 5, Los Angeles 4 (2OT)

Series: Los Angeles leads, 3-2

Key stat: Since winning Game 5 against Philadelphia in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, Chicago is 10-0 in Game 5s of playoff series.

Key player: RW Dustin Brown, Los Angeles. He got lost in the loss, but Brown had a goal, an assist, eight hits and played the pest role to perfection, drawing a penalty on defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.

What we learned: There is a beating heart in the defending champs after all. Chicago came out flying to grab an early 3-1 lead, but even when that disappeared behind another L.A. counter, the ‘Hawks dug deep, found an extra gear and willed their way to Game 6 with a fast, controlled, gutsy performance. Along the way, they may have finally discovered the second line they’ve been looking for. With Andrew Shaw centering Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, the two dormant wings finally found their groove, accounting for seven points. That should be a scary sign for Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who had an easier time when the game plan was just about corralling Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and still-sleeping Patrick Sharp. The problem for Chicago is two-fold. The ‘Hawks shortened their bench by two forwards, barely playing wings Brandon Bollig and Kris Versteeg. That could catch up to them in L.A. against a team that rolls four lines with regularity. The other concern is that goalie Corey Crawford still hasn’t played a strong, complete game since Game 1. Crawford was strong in the third period and overtimes, but had he made a couple saves earlier, like his counterpart did, it might never have reached that stage. L.A. still looks like the deeper team and the better team, but the Kings don’t want to let the ‘Hawks book a trip back to Chicago with a win in Game 6. Regardless of the Kings’ Game 7 magic in this postseason, there is no venue more daunting than United Center.

Next game: Friday at Los Angeles, 9 p.m. EST

Final thought: Remember when the second round got off to a dull start and it looked we might have a couple quick series after an electrifying Round 1? The conference finals were shaping up that way until Montreal and Chicago staved off elimination, but winning at home is one thing; winning Game 6 in the opponent’s building will be a much taller task. If the Habs and ‘Hawks can pull it off, what a weekend we’ll have to set the table for the Stanley Cup Final.

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