CHICAGO -- Wearing nothing but a scruffy beard and his hockey long johns, Patrick Kane was his old happy-go-lucky self before Game 5 of the Western Conference finals Saturday night, celebrating his triumph as the last man standing in the Blackhawks' customary pregame war of one-touch soccer outside the team dressing room with a joyous victory dance.
The 24-year-old winger had seemingly not a care in the world, which, if you're a Blackhawks' fan, is exactly the frame of mind you want for one of the most creative goal scorers and dynamic game-changers in the game.
Five hours later, Kane was in a state he described as "the twilight zone," the hero in a 4-3 double-overtime thriller against the Los Angeles Kings, his second career postseason game winner since that one three years ago in Philadelphia you might recall.
Patrick had his hat trick, the Hawks were returning to the Stanley Cup finals and everything seemed back to normal for Kane three days after he beat himself up worse than any forechecking he experienced from the Kings.
It was between Games 3 and 4 of this series, Kane had scored just three goals in 28 playoff games since that Cup-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Flyers in 2010 and there was no dodging it.
Kane agreed with those who said he was not being assertive enough. He was being too patient, he said. He needed to create his own space. He was letting his team down. He told reporters he had even watched a tape of all his career playoff goals with his father in order to rediscover a flagging confidence.
His goal the next night in Game 4 was certainly not vintage, as he arguably reached across the goal line to tap in a shot by Bryan Bickell that was probably going in by itself. But hey, a goal is a goal, it was the first for Kane in seven games and it apparently opened the proverbial flood gates, as his three goals in the conference clincher would attest.
"I expected more from myself, and my teammates probably did, too," he said Saturday night. "I tried to get back to the basics, want the puck and get the puck and try to make plays. That's kind of my attitude right now, to do that.
"When you're playing with Bicksy and (Jonathan Toews), especially the last few games, you're going to get those opportunities. A couple nice plays by them tonight. They take up a lot of space at the net, and tonight, I was kind of the guy who capitalized. But it's always nice to contribute, especially in games like this."
"He's not going to be the guy in the scrum knocking bodies around," 2010 teammate Brian Campbell said in an interview last Thursday before Game 4. "The thing with Patrick is that he's different from Jonathan. He can change a game in a second and sometimes it's tougher for fans to relate to that as much because you don't see two guys draped around him. But when he changes the game in one shift, then they're cheering for him."
"He's not going to score every game," former Blackhawk Adam Burish agreed. "It's too hard, the playoffs are too tough. Teams know if they shut down Toews and Kane, they have a better chance of winning, so it's going to be that much harder on him."
Just the same, Kane was more aggressive in Game 5, particularly early on with some notable backchecks. And while you don't necessarily want him going into corners against the Boston Bruins in the finals, Kane's desire to want the puck, get the puck may very well have a carryover effect on his teammates' play as well.
"Kaner will agree that once you see one puck go in, for me, regardless of who scored the goal, if you're out on the ice and you're part of the action and contributing on an offensive play that ends up in a goal, it helps out a lot with your confidence," Toews said. "I think it just helps you relax every time you get the puck afterward. So it's definitely a good feeling to see a few pucks go in these last couple games. ...
The last one was a particularly good feeling, coming as it did after the Kings sent the game into its first overtime with a redirect by Mike Richards with 9.4 seconds left in regulation. Kane's game winner was a one-timer off an assist by Toews 11:40 into the second OT.
"The shift before, Jonny had the same play and the puck fumbled on him," Kane said. "I knew he was coming back to me. I just tried to wait for the defenseman to go by me [and] tried to get it off as quick as I could in the net."
Kane fell to his knees after the winning goal, which sets up what looks every bit to be a classic battle between two Original Six teams, not to mention two of the last three Stanley Cup champions.
Kane made fun of what he thought was a fairly lackluster celebration.
"We were laughing about it after the game, saying if you watched the bench, it seemed like just another goal because we were all so tired," he said. " "I'm kind of out of it. It's definitely a good feeling, though."