Blackhawks lose to the Ducks in the cruelest fashion

Blackhawks lose to the Ducks in the cruelest fashion
The Ducks celebrate Matt Beleskey's game-winning goal in overtime of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. The Ducks lead the Blackhawks in the best-of-seven series, three games to two. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Nobody in a sparse Blackhawks dressing room said it.

Nobody in a white Indian-head sweater would dare show it.


But any veteran observer of Chicago sports sensed it Monday night at Honda Center, from the hushed tones of player comments to the heavy vibe hanging in the empty stalls. This was the cruelest way for the Blackhawks to lose any game, let alone a playoff game with Stanley Cup title implications.

No matter how much resolve a team has, the method to this loss was pure madness.

Frustrate your fans by falling too far behind early on the road. Stage an amazing rally in the final two minutes that teased everybody with possibility.

Then lose 45 seconds into overtime when Matt Beleskey beat Corey Crawford on a rebound for a 5-4 victory in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

After he scored the goal that gave the Ducks a 3-2 series lead, Beleskey went sprawling on his back and the Blackhawks went tumbling to one of the toughest defeats in recent memory.

It hurt so much mostly because they had come so close after falling so far behind — but never too far with this team.

Even after Patrick Maroon tapped in Sami Vatanen's pass with 5 minutes, 15 seconds left in regulation to make it 4-2, you anticipated what was coming next. You figured the Blackhawks had another rally in them, that the team that arrived 14-0 under Joel Quenneville after a playoff series was tied 2-2 had a little magic left.

You expected the unexpected, and Jonathan Toews delivered with two goals in 72 seconds to send the game into overtime. Again.

Toews' first goal came with 1:50 remaining. The second came with 37.2 seconds left from an impossible angle. You can't make this stuff up. You would describe the flurry as unfathomable except it's not hard to fathom for anybody watching this series.

"Two gigantic goals," Quenneville said.

They didn't make a gigantic difference in the outcome only because the Ducks regrouped during intermission. Coach Bruce Boudreau gathered his team for a strong but simple message:

Stop pouting, start playing harder.

"I said: 'It's our turn. Don't hang your heads, get angry,'" Boudreau said.

As dramatic as the ending was for the Blackhawks, the beginning was equally devastating.


Four words summed up the first period: So much for momentum. Game 4 meant nothing.

One team showed up mentally prepared to take control of the series; one resembled a bunch of guys who came straight from a Memorial Day barbecue. One team arrived sharp and focused, the other flat and listless. One looked ready for the Stanley Cup Final, the other geared up for golf season.

"The [Ducks] talked about being ready, and that might have been the differential," Quenneville acknowledged.

The difference between the teams defied explanation and logic. In the opening 10 minutes that determined the course of the game, the Ducks couldn't have played better.

Not coincidentally, the Blackhawks seldom have played worse.

With the season on the line Wednesday night in Game 6, now everybody has to step up for Chicago.

Now, coming off the most gut-wrenching of defeats, the most resilient team in hockey must demonstrate what makes it so.

Follow David Haugh on Twitter @DavidHaugh