CHICAGO — Maybe three minutes into the game that could send the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup finals again, there was South Buffalo’s Patrick Kane at the blue line, hacking away at the ice, looking for the puck, looking to get noticed by everyone and anyone.
He had been getting attention in all the wrong ways, of course, just last week. A scoring drought and not-so-subtle nudges from his coach had everyone wondering where the prolific winger was at the biggest time of the year. And over two nights, Kane answered that: In the right place, at the right time.
In the most spectacular fashion of perhaps his entire career, a smallish scoring wizard slung a team on his back and carried it to the Stanley Cup finals.
Three goals for Kane in Game Five on Saturday night, each one more momentous than the next, with his last ending the two-overtime game in a 4-3 victory that for the moment seemed to be a night like no other.
“Right now, it feels like the best,” Kane said, wearing a Western Conference title cap. “June 10 or June 9 a few years ago” – when the Blackhawks won the Cup – “was also a good night. Right now, it’s almost like I’m in a different zone, the Twilight Zone or something, I’m kind of out of it. But it’s definitely a good feeling.”
It was a game Kane just about won twice, with his second goal seemingly sealing matters late in the third period before a Kings rally in the final seconds of regulation necessitated the third score. On that sequence, Kane took a drop pass from Jonathan Toews and rifled a screamer past the Kings’ Jonathan Quick, following it with a primal scream amid a United Center detonation.
The Blackhawks will face the Boston Bruins for the Cup, the first finals meeting of Original Six teams since Montreal defeated the New York Rangers in 1979. Game One from Chicago will be at 8 p.m. on Ch. 2.
Before Game Four against the Kings, he had not scored a goal in seven games. He then posted four in his last two, searching for his game through film sessions with his father and text messages from close friends and even sushi dinners for good luck. And what was lost was found.
“He stepped up,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He took on the responsibility of leading the team and proving that he’s a top player. He made special plays over the two games.”
Nice to see him finish it off in a real positive way for us. Top players, they want to be great all the time.”
Kane was certainly great all the time Saturday, start to finish, carrying over the momentum from the scoring breakthrough in Game Four.
“To get that monkey off the back and get that confidence level, it goes a long way in any sport,” winger Bryan Bickell said. “I’m happy for him. To do what he did was huge.”
First came a bit of brilliant and breathtaking stick-handling in the first period for a score. A misplay near the crease created a little bit of havoc when Bickell sent the puck toward Quick and Toews jostled at the net. No one was able to corral the rebound until Kane did, and then came a magic act.
Kane gave a split-second head fake, which caused Kings defenseman Drew Doughty to hit the ice. Then he kept sliding and sliding to his left, patience that caused Quick to commit low as well.
With those two bodies horizontal and essentially screening anyone else from charging in, Kane roofed in his fourth postseason goal to open a two-score lead six minutes in.
In the third period, Kane recorded the apparent game-winner when Bickell started another sequence by taking out a Kings player behind the net and then backhanded a pass to Kane in the slot.
Kane left no doubt, one-timing a shot past Quick high for the go-ahead score about 16 minutes into the third. But after the Kings evened things with 9.4 seconds left in regulation, it would be left for Kane and Toews once more in the second overtime.
“The shift before, actually, Johnny had the same play,” Kane said. “I knew he was coming back to me, just tried to wait for the defenseman to come by me. He made a great pass. I just tried to get it off as quick as I can.”
Not so long ago, everyone was wondering where Kane was, let alone where he was going.
What started in Game Four continued as Kane hacked the ice early in Game Five, begging for someone to find him, and then after that came the effort that got everyone’s attention.
“It’s always nice to contribute, especially in games like this,” Kane said.