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« Despite Layoff, Ducks, Andersen Outplay Blackhawks in Game 1 Avisail Garcia's Bat Emerges for White Sox »

Blackhawks Wed May 20 2015

Kruger Gets Redemption, Ties Series in 3OT Thriller

Chicago Blackhawks After Marcus Kruger took a vicious header to the boards, off a questionable hit by Clayton Stoner early into the first period of Game 2 of the Western Conference Final, it was apparent Kruger was going to be finished for the evening and Stoner would be ejected, or, at the very least, serve a double-minor penalty. The play foreshadowed how the rest of the game would play out: big hits, physical play and no love lost between either side.

Stoner only received a two-minute minor, upon which the Blackhawks were able to capitalize in a rare power-play goal, while Kruger remained in the game, which turned out to be key hours later in the Blackhawks' thrilling 3-2 win played in three overtimes, the longest game ever in the franchise's 89-year history.

While Hawks fans grabbed a quick nap and made their commute to work this morning in a much-better mood -- albeit, a little groggy -- after a prize fight of a hockey game, their team now heads back home for Games 3 and 4 at the United Center with the series tied at one-a-piece.

If you think you're tired, try putting yourself in Duncan Keith's skates and imagine playing 49 minutes, 51 seconds -- nearly an entire regulation-hockey game -- out of nearly two hours of ice time. Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya weren't far behind, logging 47 minutes, 35 seconds, 47 minutes, 46 seconds and 46 minutes, 6 seconds, respectively.

These clearly are alarming numbers, as Joel Quenneville finds himself stuck between a rock and Kimmo Timonen with playing his blue liners. David Rundblad was scratched, making way for Kyle Cuminsky to lace up his skates and try his hand at filling in for the injured Michal Rozsival. Cumiskey proved his worth for a little over 18 minutes of ice time, and did his best to prevent turnovers in his own zone to give Corey Crawford some breathing room.

As it would turn out, the game's number-two star in Crawford would see a total of 62 shots (62?!?!?!?!?), stopping 60 of them in impressive fashion despite a few clangs off the iron. Crawford easily could have been the number-one star, but whoever was going to score the game-winner was going to be given that honor. Perhaps, instead, Crow will skate away with the Conn Smythe if he continues to perform like that throughout this series and potentially the next.

The game actually nearly ended a little earlier than the marathon it became when Andrew Shaw got creative on the offensive end. When Shaw channeled his inner Lionel Messi by headbutting the puck past Frederik Andersen with 8 minutes, 47 seconds remaining in the second overtime, millions of Hawks fans everywhere simultaneously screamed with joy, which was followed by, "Can he do that?" As it would turn out, the phone call to Toronto by the officials resulted in a no-goal, and thus resulted in another hour of sleep deprivation.

The move aside, Shaw easily played one of the best games of his career, finding the puck and making smart passes and accurate shots on goal. One thing Quenneville stressed before Game 2 was the need for net-front presence, and Shaw did just that, scoring the game's first goal just 2 minutes, 14 seconds into the first period.

And as contained as Patrick Kane has been in the first and most of the second game, he seemed to find a little extra kick near the end as those defending him tried to keep up in the Hawks' zone. The Ducks have played Kane perfectly, but fatigue began to set in late in Game 2, and might be cause enough for him to begin to heat up (Kane was second on the team in shots with six).

It would seem the Ducks' confidence has been broken after a loss like this; however, don't count on it. This is a big and fast team and they're going to look for a split on their road trip.

The initial thought was Blackhawks in five or, at most, six. The way both teams played last night would indicate this series is going all seven, with at least a few of them going well into the night and early-morning hours. However, if the Hawks' power play can replicate what it did in Game 2; if Kane can shed defenders and get in the open ice; and if Cumiskey and Timonen can limit mistakes and spell an overrun defense, the Hawks might be able to finish the series out sooner than later.

Game 2 in Anaheim was an instant classic, and despite the dirty hit by Stoner, it was a very well-paced effort on both ends of the ice. It was a dream goal by Kruger to end it, sending an entire fan base off to sleep -- even if only for a few hours -- dreaming of coming a step closer to their team winning the Stanley Cup.

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