Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Anaheim Ducks have learned it's not wise to let the Chicago Blackhawks hang around once the game hits overtime.
Every OT game the Blackhawks had played this postseason had been a marathon, but the Ducks altered that trend in Game 5 and now are one step away from returning to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Chicago won its first four games beyond regulation in the 2015 playoffs and each of those contests ended no sooner than the second overtime period. Monday night in Anaheim, however, the Ducks found a way to finish off the Blackhawks less than a minute into OT.
Matt Beleskey scored just 45 seconds into the fourth period after his club took advantage of Chicago's failed attempt at dumping the puck into the Anaheim zone. After a triple-overtime loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals -- the longest game in Blackhawks history -- and a double-OT setback in Game 4 on Saturday, the Ducks finally broke through against Chicago beyond the third period to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The dramatic 5-4 victory came after the Blackhawks managed to erase a 4-2 deficit in the last two minutes of regulation thanks to a pair of goals from captain Jonathan Toews.
If Anaheim had lost Game 5, it would be easy to blame goaltender Frederik Andersen, who allowed Toews to score the game-tying goal from a tough angle with just 38 seconds left in the third period. Andersen was sitting back in the net and didn't see Toews, who won a battle for the puck in the left corner, shoot from the icing line. As the puck banked of Andersen's skate and into the net, it looked as if Chicago carried all the momentum and was headed for yet another OT triumph.
But before the Blackhawks could dig in for another long OT battle, the Ducks pounced on a Chicago miscue and pushed their combatants to the brink of elimination.
After the Blackhawks failed to get the puck in deep for a line change, Jakob Silfverberg sent a stretch pass up to Ryan Kesler, who charged into the offensive zone on a 2-on-1. Corey Crawford kicked aside Kesler's wrist shot, but the rebound went straight to Beleskey, who lifted the puck into the top of the net to send the home crowd into a frenzy.
"That's the biggest goal I've ever scored. It's a great feeling any time you do that, especially at home," Beleskey said. "We're one game away from a Stanley Cup berth. It was a huge goal and it felt unbelievable."
In previous seasons under head coach Bruce Boudreau, the Ducks were criticized for not being able to handle adversity. If it wasn't already apparent, this Anaheim team is different.
The Ducks played a tentative brand of hockey in the previous OT clashes against Chicago, but changed their approach in Game 5. In Game 4, the Blackhawks suffered through a third-period collapse in which they allowed three goals in a 37-second span, but they regrouped to tie the game late in regulation before winning early in the second overtime period.
Anaheim duplicated Chicago's resilient performance a few days later, putting an unfortunate ending to regulation to rest with a burst of intensity in OT.
"You're playing elite teams that aren't going to give up at any point," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "We've had two overtime games against them that we've lost, and in those games we went into overtime trying not to lose. We went out there and executed what we wanted to do. We came up with a big play early on."
As for the Blackhawks, nobody is counting them out of this series yet. Chicago has a home Game 6 coming up on Wednesday and the Ducks should expect to see Chicago put forth its best effort of the series.
Like a wounded animal, the Blackhawks are most dangerous when forced to fight for their lives. Toews led a late charge to get Game 5 to OT and he's capable of carrying his team through an entire game if that what's necessary.
Expect the rest of the guys in Blackhawks sweaters to follow his lead.
"Most guys, if not everybody in this room, definitely believe that that's when we play our best when our backs are against the wall," Toews warned.
This has turned into one of those series you can never give up on, no matter the score.
Hockey fans everywhere -- minus the ones in Anaheim -- should root for a Game 7 because the longer this series lasts, the better chance we get to see something else we never would have expected.