Handzus knows he’s been subpar. After producing 11 points, a plus-7 rating and providing the Blackhawks with a stable second-line center in the playoffs last season, Handzus has been nearly the opposite this season.
He entered Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Kings with two points, a minus-6 and having often been among the team’s worst possession players in 16 playoff games this season.
All of that bothered Handzus at some level, but he made sure it didn’t bother him when he was on the ice. The 37-year-old veteran has been around long enough to know the worst thing a player can do is wallow in self-pity.
Handzus kept his head up.
And he was rewarded for it on Wednesday. With the Blackhawks facing elimination and the game into a second overtime, the Kings lost track of Handzus and he skated clearly through the Kings’ defensive zone. He received a pass from Brandon Saad in the slot and lifted a backhanded shot past Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick and into the net for the winner.
Handzus knew the goal didn’t make up for all of his previous performances, but he was pleased to produce when he could.
“Obviously I’m glad I came through,” Handzus said. “It’s only one game. I know I got to get better. Hopefully it helps me.
“You still have to have a lot of confidence in yourself. Like I said, I’m not really happy how I played. Just got to be confident. It’s a lot of fun to be playing in the playoffs. It’s the conference finals. You can’t just look at yourself all the time and be down and be disappointed. You just got to be positive.
“If you won’t be positive, you probably won’t get out of the slump or anything. I stayed positive. I’m a better player than I showed. I’ll try to show it the next game, too.”
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville had recently gone away from playing Handzus consistently. Handzus played only 2:52 of even-strength ice time in Game 4 and was on the lower end of even-strength ice time at 11:24 in Game 5. Quenneville also moved him from the second line to the third line.
Despite reducing Handzus’ minutes, Quenneville has voiced his support for Handzus and was glad No. 26 delivered on Wednesday.
“He's a smart player,” Quenneville said. “Penalty killing is his strength. [Andrew Shaw] has been playing a lot. Was half a shift left, I threw [Handzus] out there. He didn't play much in overtime, but what a great finish. Happy for him, excited about our team.”
Handzus’ teammates felt the same for him. They have a lot of respect for him regardless of his numbers.
“He's a warrior,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. “He comes to play every night and does whatever he can to be in the lineup, whether he's injured or not. We’d seen that last year with the amount of injuries he had, how he brought something every night. He had some huge goals in last year's playoffs.
“We know he's capable of scoring those big goals. Probably none bigger than tonight with the game on the line. I knew he has a great backhand. It was a great shot by him. I'm sure he's happy about that one, as well as the team.”