ANAHEIM -- This was the kind of game that could have haunted the Anaheim Ducks forever.
It was the kind of game that could have destroyed a Stanley Cup dream and perhaps stained the career of netminder Frederik Andersen for good.
And in an instant, when Matt Beleskey snapped home the rebound of a Ryan Kesler shot just 45 seconds into overtime, the Ducks stared back those doubts and specters and instead found themselves one win away from a trip to the Stanley Cup finals.
In the wake of their epically improbable 5-4 overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks Monday night, the Ducks tore down at a little of the mythology of the Blackhawks, and in doing so mythologized themselves a little.
"We wanted this game and we believed we could win this game," said forward Patrick Maroon, who scored what appeared to be the insurance marker in the third period to give the Ducks a 4-2 lead. "I think the guys feel good about it. I think the guys feel good about going into Chicago in Game 6 and ready to play."
Game 5 had so much, so many twists and turns and so many dramatic moments that it threatened to pop the lid off the Honda Center on Memorial Day night.
Let's start with the Ducks’ dominant first period that saw them score three times and limit the Blackhawks to three shots on goal, the first coming with 3:40 left in the first frame.
But anyone who’s watched even a millisecond of these Western Conference finals knew -- or should have known -- that even a 3-0 lead was not going to be the dominant storyline. It might have been a start, but it wasn’t going to be the whole thing. No way.
And sure enough, the Blackhawks pecked away, Teuvo Teravainen scoring early in the second period, beating Andersen with a weak shot. Then they drew within one with Brent Seabrook beating Andersen to the glove side with just 24.8 seconds left in the second.
But when Maroon slid home a beautiful Sami Vatanen pass with 5:15 left in regulation to make it 4-2, well, that should have been it.
But it wasn’t. And when Jonathan Toews scored twice in the final 1:50, the second a bad-angle shot along the goal line from the corner that fooled Andersen and bounced in off his left leg, it seemed as though it would be the Blackhawks who would own the defining moment of this to-and-fro series.
“A little bit he caught me off guard when they battle on the boards there, and he kind of just threw it from nowhere and caught me on the foot,” Andersen acknowledged. "Obviously, one I’ve got to have at that time of game."
And heading into OT, even the Ducks faithful had to wonder if this just wasn’t meant to be. That maybe the Blackhawks and all of their experience and talk of the culture of winning were simply just too much for a Ducks team that has been so good for so much of this series.
But in the Ducks dressing room, coach Bruce Boudreau came in and told his players not to be discouraged.
“They capitalized, but coming into overtime intermission Bruce said, ‘Get your heads up boys, we’re going to win this hockey game,’ and everyone believed in here,” Maroon said.
“We’ve been doing it all year, and I think that’s the great thing about our team: We don’t give up. ... That being said though, we can’t let that happen [up] 4-2, you can’t let that happen. They’re going to keep coming. They’re a powerhouse team, and they have a lot of offense.”
Boudreau proved prescient. (Or was he merely being hopeful in that whistling-past-the-graveyard kind of nervous hopefulness?) Regardless, the Ducks began the overtime with a push, and two shifts later it was over.
“I said, 'It's our turn,'" Boudreau recalled saying. "'Don't be upset and hang your heads. Get angry. Get just really mad that we sort of pissed it away a little bit. Just come back and play the way you did in the first period. Things will work out.'”
Funny how it goes, but at the start of the game, Boudreau had Beleskey playing with Rickard Rakell and Kyle Palmieri instead of his usual linemates Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg. But later on, Beleskey was back on that line and was with them when the winner was scored.
“That's the biggest goal I've ever scored,” said Beleskey, who had not scored in this series after coming into the conference finals on a five-game goal-scoring streak. "It's a great feeling anytime you do that, especially here at home. We're one game away from a Stanley Cup berth. That was a huge goal. Felt unbelievable."
If Beleskey was the hero on this night, the man most relieved was Andersen, and it will be interesting heading into Game 6 to see if he can truly put his horror show of a night away and return to the steady form that has marked his play all spring.
“Of course, it was not easy between the third and OT for me, but just try and get ready for the next shot, that’s all you got to do in those situations,” Andersen said. "I’m very happy for our group that we could answer that way.
“Obviously, tough to lose a two-goal lead like that. We responded well and gave us a goal right away, and that was huge."
He admitted that the tying goal was difficult to get over.
“I just tried to settle down,” he said. "It was obviously one of the harder things I’ve done, the way the game went for me. It’s hardest as a goalie, you’ve got to have a short memory and just get ready for the next shot. That’s all I can do."
He recalled that captain Ryan Getzlaf came to him and told to forget the goal and focus on the next shots.
“Well, Getzy came right down right away to try and pick me up,” Andersen said. "He’s a great leader, told me whatever matters now is the next shot, it’s all I can worry about. That was my mindset."
Maybe this is as close to a knockout punch as we’re going to see in these Western Conference finals. And it is typical of this series that it’s a punch that for a time looked like it would land squarely on the Ducks' jaws.
But it didn’t.
This has been a terrific series because the hockey has been dynamic and each team has taken turns having its way, imposing its will only to see the other team bounce back, often within the same game, to do the same.
It has been a terrific series because the storylines have not followed a natural arc.
Monday, for instance, marked the fourth time this spring that the Blackhawks have won a multiple-overtime game and then followed it up with a loss. It’s happened twice in this series.
“No excuses,” Toews said. "Can’t hold anything back now. You’ve got to draw on everything you’ve got, every type of experience you’ve been in before and dig even for more than that and see what you got.
“Because we know how good this team is, we know how determined they are. And I think you definitely dig deep and ask yourself those questions, too, and you find out how much you’ve got. I think we’re confident that we’ve got that character and we’ve got what it takes to win the next game and keep ourselves alive in this series."
So much of this is hard to get your head around, but in the end, whatever the emotional toll those Game 2 and Game 4 losses took on the Ducks, it was not enough to break them.
Instead, they’re the ones who have pushed the Blackhawks to the breaking point.
“Well, I mean, again, I've said it a hundred times, it's the belief," Boudreau said. "We keep talking about it. The belief that it can happen. I mean, both teams are tremendously resilient. We score three goals, whatever, last game, and Chicago comes right back and ties it up, ends up winning it.
“They score two goals in the last minute to tie it up. We have the wherewithal to dig deep and come back in overtime. Both teams, it's just a battle between two good teams. Whoever's left standing, we'll see what happens.”