For starters, Emery had played just once this season prior to Saturday’s game. He started against the Phoenix Coyotes on Jan. 20, so he had nearly two weeks between games. He also didn’t look exactly sharp against the Coyotes, allowing four goals in a 6-4 win.
Despite all those reasons for him to fail Saturday, Emery came through with the performance of a lifetime. He made a career-high 45 saves, stopped all three shootout attempts he faced and led the Blackhawks to a 3-2 shootout win on the road.
“He was awesome, fun to watch” said Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, who scored in the third period and in the shootout. “We obviously got outplayed, shouldn’t have won the game. He was the only reason we did. It’s good to see, especially for a backup goaltender like that. We have confidence in him. He really showed us tonight. They had almost 50 shots, and he played unbelievable. Two points go to him.”
The Blackhawks desperately needed Emery to go above and beyond Saturday, too. Coming off an intense shootout loss against the rival Vancouver Canucks on Friday, the Blackhawks looked physically and mentally drained against the Flames. Their passes and decisions were as sloppy as they have been all season.
Luckily for them, Emery was physically fresh and mentally focused while turning away shot after shot after shot. The Flames have themselves to blame for a couple missed chances at net, but it was mostly Emery’s doing.
The Flames especially challenged Emery in the third period. The Flames were in the Blackhawks’ zone throughout the period and delivered constant shots at Emery from every angle. Two Blackhawks’ penalties in the period didn’t do Emery any favors either. The Flames snuck two goals past him, but he stillstopped 22 of 24 shots in the period.
“It’s different getting that amount of shots,” said Emery, whose previous career-high was 43 saves. “Sometimes when you get a feel for the puck, it helps you out. But it’s just try to win a game, bottom line.”
It appeared Emery’s performance might go to waste when the Flames took a 2-1 lead with 34.2 seconds remaining on a goal by Jay Bouwmeester. But the Blackhawks rewarded Emery and silenced a home crowd ready to leave the building with a victory. Emery left the ice in the final minute, a sixth skater came on and Marian Hossa netted a wrist shot with 2.1 seconds left to tie the game.
Emery was dealt another difficult hand in the overtime as the Blackhawks faced a 4-on-3 penalty kill. Again, the Flames put a barrage of pucks at the net, but none of them found the inside of it.
All together, Emery saved 37 of 38 shots with the teams at even strength and 8 of 9 shots on the Flames’ five power plays.
Emery continued his magic in the shootout. He first spread out and denied Alex Tanguay with a pad save to the left corner. Tanguay tried to get Emery to commit his body too early and lift the puck over him, but Emery played it to perfection. Next, Emery gloved a backhanded shot to the right corner by Jiri Hudler while spread out on the ice. Finally, a wrist shot by a charging Roman Cervenka ricocheted off Emery’s pads and flew to the boards.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was torn about the game. On the one hand, he was horrified by how poorly his team played. On the other, he couldn’t say enough about Emery’s night. Even as he spoke after the game, Quenneville bounced back and forth between his two conflicting emotions.
“It was criminal,” Quenneville said. “We got to the call the cops after that performance. We stole two points. (Emery) was spectacular. I have never been out-chanced, outplayed like that in my life. It was a special performance. It continued on to the shootout. It was tough watching, but you get a little consolation prize on how well he played, a bonus there.”