Antoine Vermette went from a healthy scratch in Game 3 to the double-overtime hero of Game 4 in the Western Conference Final.
The Chicago Blackhawks forward netted his second goal of the playoffs at 5:37 of double-OT to win a wild battle with the Anaheim Ducks, 5-4, on Saturday night, to even the series at 2-2. Game 5 is scheduled for Monday night in Anaheim.
“It’s not the ideal situation. You make sure you come prepared, keep a good attitude,” said Vermette, who was held out of Game 3 by coach Joel Quenneville.
The game-winning play began with Vermette keeping the puck in the attacking zone, and sending it deep behind the net to Patrick Sharp. All five Ducks converged around the goal, watching Sharp; that left Vermette wide open in the slot to receive his pass from behind the net.
His shot was blocked in front of the crease by a diving Rickard Rakell, but it rebounded to Vermette who beat Fredrik Andersen (35 saves) at 5:37 of the second overtime.
Game 4 continued the teams’ brutal physical play, as they combined for 112 hits. The personal war between centers Jonathan Toews of Chicago and Ryan Kesler of Vancouver escalated. And for the second time in the series, they needed multiple overtimes to decide things.
The Blackhawks struck first with a shorthanded goal.
With Brent Seabrook in the box on a slashing call, Saad grabbed the puck in the defense zone and began skating out. Suddenly, he was sprung for a breakaway when Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin was tripped up with referee Chris Rooney. He motored past Ryan Kesler, protecting the puck with his skate as the Ducks center sprawled to knock the it away, and snapped a shot past Andersen for the shorthanded goal at 19:13 of the first.
Beauchemin atoned for that unintentional mishap in the second period to set up Kyle Palmieri for the equalizer.
The Blackhawks were gassed as the Ducks had taken over play, at one point taking nine consecutive shots on goal. Niklas Hjalmarsson attempted to clear, but it was stopped by Beauchemin at the blue line. The interception created a cushion in the Chicago defense, where he found Palmieri. He had the time to snap a shot that appeared to deflect off of teammate Emerson Etem for the 1-1 tie at 18:14 of the second.
In the third period, it was Chicago’s Duncan Keith that made a brilliant play to keep the puck in the Anaheim Ducks zone, and passed it on the left wing boards to Saad. He immediately made a nasty little kick-pass over to Marian Hossa with this right skate. He fed Toews to the right of the Anaheim goal. He waited out Andersen and popped home the puck with a high shot to make it 2-1 at 2:38.
Brent Seabrook converted to make it a 3-1 game in a great forechecking shift from Hossa, Toews and Saad, who had the primary assist on the goal at 7:38.
Then came the Anaheim shooting gallery.
Kesler went to the net, banging his stick on the ice asking for the puck. It was Jakob Silfverberg that found him, as Kesler snapped the puck past Corey Crawford to cut the lead to 3-2 at 8:42.
Then it was Matt Beleskey, making a mockery of the Blackhawks’ deadline acquisitions to tie the game. He stripped Vermette of the puck, and then scored around Kimmo Timonen to knot the game at 3-3 at 9:05 of the third period. It was his sixth of the playoffs.
Fourteen seconds later, Corey Perry scored his ninth of the postseason, sneaking behind Duncan Keith to collect the rebound of a Ryan Getzlaf shot and tuck it past Crawford for the 4-3 lead.
Three goals, 37 seconds. The second-fastest offensive outburst in NHL playoff history, second only to the 1979 Toronto Maple Leafs scoring three in 23 seconds against the Atlanta Flames in a 7-4 win.
(Of course, Bill Mosienko of the Chicago Blackhawks once scored a hat trick in 21 seconds during the regular season, a long-standing NHL record set in 1952.)
But the Blackhawks would force overtime on a power-play goal by Patrick Kane, also his ninth, tucking the puck through Anderson’s pads on a perfect Brad Richards feed at the side of the net at 12:39.
The first overtime featured some heart-stopping close calls. Andrew Shaw hit the post. Andersen stopped a Patrick Sharp breakaway. Crawford had a moment in which he nearly knocked the puck into his own net.
The second overtime was much less chaotic, and significantly shorter, thanks to an unlikely hero in Vermette.
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