ANAHEIM, Calif. – Marcus Kruger’s not the flashiest guy on the Blackhawks roster. But he is one of the hardest workers, whether he’s battling for pucks along the boards or trying to clean up around the net.
On Tuesday night, that hard work paid a very big dividend.
Kruger scored the game-winning goal 16:12 into triple overtime, as the Blackhawks beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final. The Blackhawks, who had an early 2-0 lead and then lost it, even the series at 1-1; they host Game 3 at the United Center on Thursday night.
Corey Crawford stopped a career-high 60 shots, including 38 consecutive stops in the final 79 minutes, 42 seconds of the game. Duncan Keith played nearly 50 minutes (49:51) and Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook both played about 47 1/2 minutes. Johnny Oduya logged just over 46 minutes.
[ANDREW SHAW: If anyone can pull that off, it should still be a goal]
Not surprisingly, given those gaudy numbers, Tuesday marked the Blackhawks’ longest game in franchise history.
“It felt like it,” Crawford said. “We played hard throughout the whole thing and we had some chances. They had some, too that went off the post. Both sides were so close. That was just a great hockey game to watch, I think.”
It was a great one to coach for Joel Quenneville.
“As intense a game as I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “Unbelievable game, pace, both teams left it out on the rink. Both teams had excellent chances to win the game over different periods.”
The Blackhawks thought they had won it in double overtime when Andrew Shaw head-butted the puck past Frederik Andersen on a power play. But NHL Rule 78.5 (i) says, “Apparent goals shall be disallowed when the puck has been directed, batted or thrown into the net by an attacking player other than with a stick.”
Shaw said it was worth a shot.
“At that point you just react to the moment, try to get it in and get the game over,” he said.
But there was no denying Kruger, who, at the side of the net, knocked down Brent Seabrook’s shot and past Andersen.
“I lost the puck there when it went [defenseman] to [defenseman],” Kruger said, referring to Oduya and Seabrook. “It hit my glove first and then I tried to get a stick on it. I was happy to put it in.”
The Blackhawks were, too. It was a long, draining game regardless but it would’ve hurt a lot more if the Blackhawks had lost it. It was looking like they would through the first two periods. Despite scoring two power-play goals in the first seven minutes of the game – Shaw and Marian Hossa – the Blackhawks couldn’t keep that early 2-0 lead. The Ducks, who were fueled by a physical game and scoring pressure, evened it up in the second with goals from Andrew Cogliano and Corey Perry.
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]
Then came the marathon segment, with teams battling for opportunities and goaltenders keeping each at bay. Crawford and Andersen were both sensational, the latter stopping 53 of 56 shots.
“I thought he battled,” Quenneville said of Crawford. “I thought he was outstanding, thought he was quick, alert, handled the puck, rebound control. He made a couple gigantic saves.”
In games like this it’s not about being pretty. It’s about finding a way to score that gritty goal. Kruger doesn’t score a lot, but he’s usually in the right areas to have a chance. He capitalized on that chance on Tuesday.
“We love to battle. We stuck with it and Krugs gets a big goal because he’s one of those guys who’s a warrior,” Quenneville said. “But across the board, commend everybody.”