Blackhawks, Ducks Level in Baffling Western Conference Final

Does anybody have any idea who is going to come out on top in this Western Conference Final? The answer to that question should be “no”. If you think you know the answer, stop it. because you don’t.

There were two things that were predictable about this series heading in: That it would be an extremely close, hard fought battle and that the level of quality of the hockey played in it would be sky high.

The Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks have delivered on both counts, and Game 4 proved to be yet another instant classic from this series, and it almost surely will not be the last. Let’s take a look at how exactly last night’s madness played out.

Three in Thirty-Seven

Last night we all bore witness to one of the most shocking occurrences in recent NHL playoff history. Heading into the third period with the score 1-1, the Blackhawks came out a desperate team. As well they should have, seeing as losing that period for them would mean heading back to Anaheim for Game 5 down 3-1 in the series.

As such, the Blackhawks responded with an excellent start to the crucial frame. Captain Jonathan Toews led the way by exhibiting great patience on his go-ahead goal at 2:38. Then it was Brent Seabrook following up as he extended the Blackhawks’ lead to 3-1 with a bomb that beat Frederik Andersen at 7:38.

But no one, and I do mean no one, could possibly have seen what was coming next.

It started when Ryan Kesler did one of the things that Ryan Kesler does best. Parked in front of the net, the puck found its way to the Anaheim center. He made no mistake, and tucked a quick shot under Corey Crawford’s elbow to bring the score to 3-2.

It continued when Kimmo Timonen’s pass out of the zone right after the following center ice face-off was bobbled by a couple Blackhawks forwards. Matt Beleskey picked up the puck, brought it in, was challenged by Timonen, made Timonen make a mistake with his stick, and whizzed a quick wrister right to the top corner past Crawford.

Coach Joel Quenneville then chose to utilize his timeout. The coach was visibly vocal with his players at this point, and he did not appear to be holding back. Captain Jonathan Toews even appeared to be raising his voice at a few or maybe even all of his teammates. None of this mattered, though. As yet again, right off the following face-off, the puck found its way into the Chicago zone, then into the goal-mouth area, and then into right to the back of the net, as this time it was Corey Perry who lit the lamp and gave the Ducks a one goal lead in the third.

In hindsight, Quenneville regretted the course of action that he took. “It was the worst timeout I ever called,” he told reporters after the game. “I’m going, ‘Oh, my God, we don’t have a timeout, down a goal, 10 minutes to go in the game.’ ”

You can take a look at the three goals that made up this historic achievement for yourself below:


Vermette Validates

While Quenneville realized his mistake in calling his timeout when he did last night, he also realized another mistake he had made previously in the series. His baffling decision to scratch Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen in Game 3 of the series quickly proved to be the wrong one, but the veteran coach realized his mistake and re-inserted the two third-liners back into his line-up for Game 4 after Game 3’s defeat.

This correction paid off in spades last night, as it was Antoine Vermette who buried the eventual game winner in double overtime, with the secondary assist going to none other than Finnish phenom Teuvo Teravainen, his press box mate from Thursday night.

Vermette and Teravainen surely will not be removed from the Blachkhawks’ lineup again any time soon. Along with Patrick Sharp, they make up what is quite arguably the best of the four third lines that remain standing in this postseason. The decision to take away that advantage in forward depth in Game 3 made little sense then, and certainly is a mistake that Quenneville has learned from.

Here’s the pivotal double overtime winner, for your viewing pleasure:

Looking Ahead

As stated earlier, it’s extremely difficult for any observer to predict where this series is heading. Game 5 appears to be a coin flip heading in, and whoever loses that one is certainly more than capable of pulling off two straight wins and taking the series anyway.

For Blackhawks and Ducks fans, this series is utter agony to sit through and watch, but for those of us who count ourselves among the neutral observers of this epic tilt, it’s an exhilarating thrill ride that we’ll be sad to see come to an end. I can’t wait to see how the next three games unfold. Because, really, we all know this series has to go seven, right? It’s just the winner that we have no way of knowing.