Throughout the Western Conference finals, Chicago Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville continued to be questioned about his use of center Michal Handzus.
Is the team's oldest player going to be dropped down a line? Will he even play?
Handzus, 37, played only 4 minutes 28 seconds Monday in Game 4 of the series between the Blackhawks and the Kings.
Then came Wednesday night, 2:04 into a second overtime period, when Handzus scored the game-winning goal to help the defending Stanley Cup champions win, 5-4.
The victory forced a Game 6 on Friday night at Staples Center, where Handzus played from 2007 to 2011 before leaving for San Jose as a free agent.
Forward Brandon Saad, who played an outstanding game, shifted the puck to Handzus for a backhand flick to the left of goalie Jonathan Quick.
Saad said he saw that Handzus "had some speed going through the middle there, making the three on two. I threw it to him."
Handzus smiled at the praise for his speed, knowing his lack of it was the reason he averaged only 13-plus minutes on the ice this season, scoring four goals and contributing 12 assists.
"I think [Saad] slowed down, so … ," Handzus said, jokingly. "I was surprised I got open like that, but [Saad] had a great heads-up play, waited and waited, brought guys to him and then made a great pass. … I got open, but a lot of credit to him."
As Handzus' minutes this series have shrunk from 17:26 in Game 1 to 13:37 to 11:43 in Game 4, he displayed a veteran's professional attitude.
"You still have to have confidence in yourself," Handzus said. "It's fun to be playing in the playoffs, the conference finals. You think of that … you can't just look at yourself and be down and disappointed.
"You've got to be positive. If not, you won't get out of the slumber. I tried to believe I was a better player than I'd showed.
"And I tried to show that again."
Handzus played only 3:02 in the first overtime period after playing 14:30 in regulation, but he jumped in to replace second-line center Andrew Shaw alongside Saad and Patrick Kane and made magic.
"Smart player. … 'Shawzie' had been playing a lot, there was half a shift left, what a great finish, happy for him," said Quenneville, who called Game 5 the greatest overtime hockey game he has experienced.
Saad said Handzus, a Slovakian, showed an experienced player's poise when it mattered most.
"He handled it off his skate and made a great move," Saad said. "He's a leader out here, does all the right things. It's nice to see him get rewarded. Just stick with it.
"There's going to be a hero in here, we kept saying. Luckily, we got one."