CHICAGO – One lucky bounce.
It might not sound like much of a strategy for playing sudden-death hockey, but patience has kept the Chicago Blackhawks perfect in overtime this postseason.
They've now gone into extra time four times and won them all, including a 5-4 decision Saturday night that marked their second overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks and evened their Western Conference finals series at 2-2.
Antoine Vermette, who was switched out of Game 3 for "fresher legs" by coach Joel Quenneville, notched the game winner 5:37 into the extra period. Vermette's first wrister from the deep slot was blocked, but he collected the rebound and coolly held his second shot until he was at a tight angle along the left goal line — testing his nerves against those of Ducks netminder Frederik Andersen.
"I was trying to find the puck ... I didn't see it," Andersen said afterward. "I tried to take away the bottom of the ice, but he was able to lift it."
It was a stunning reversal of fortune.
The Blackhawks built a 3-1 lead less than eight minutes into the third period, then protected it like a pee wee squad already planning the postgame pizza party. In the span of 37 seconds, assisted by several Chicago miscues, the Ducks beat Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford three times in 37 seconds.
The Blackhawks forced the extra period on a goal by Patrick Kane. But the longer play went on, the less tenuous their grip looked. The Ducks piled up a 17-5 margin in shots in the first overtime, and 4-2 through the early going in the second.
But Quenneville and captain Jonathon Toews said Chicago's extensive postseason experience — 10-8 in overtime games when these playoffs began, with two Stanley Cups to their credit in the last five years — helps the Blackhawks stay calm in sudden-death periods, even when the momentum appears to be headed in the opposite direction.
"This is a really comfortable group," Toews said. "We know to keep working for that one lucky bounce. ... After all this time, I think there's just this feeling we'll eventually find that break."
By some measures, Vermette should have been the most impatient guy on Chicago's bench, since he wound up watching Game 3 on television, occasionally hopping on an exercise bike to work off the nervous energy.
"Not too pleasant" is the way Vermette described the unwanted time off. But Toews said his teammate isn't the only Blackhawks with a short memory when it comes to disappointment.
"I think some teams wouldn't have been as calm with themselves. ... Instead of wondering, 'How did we let that slip?' guys were telling each other, 'Forget that we had them 3-1.'"
What remains to be seen is how quickly the Ducks can put another tough loss behind them.
"It's going to be a long series. They're a championship team and they don't die," Anaheim's Andrew Cogliano said.
But he quickly added that "we put a little more doubt in their minds" by storming back into the lead, and that despite Chicago's edge in playoff experience, the extra minutes being logged by their defensemen since Mikael Roszival went down with an injury will pay dividends for the Ducks the longer the series runs.
"I think if were ever in that situation again," he said, "we'll clean up. They know we're not going to give up."