DAVID GREENE, HOST:
As nail-biting hockey fans know well, there has been a lot of drama in this year's playoffs. Last night in the NHL, no different. The Chicago Blackhawks advanced to the semifinals with a thrilling Game 7 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings.
Chicago had the best regular season record in the NHL this year. But as NPR's Mike Pesca reports, that doesn't mean much when your back is against the wall in an elimination game.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Here, now, the hierarchy of hockey hullabaloo, from interesting to ecstasy-inducing; close games, close playoff games, close elimination playoff games, close Game 7 playoff games, overtime Game 7 playoff games. The destination is exciting but the path is fraught. In Chicago last night, after a scoreless first period, Detroit flubbed a line change. Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson recognized the opportunity, passed it ahead to Patrick Sharp, to Handzus to Hossa, back to Sharp and...
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PESCA: The pinging puck proved faster than the words of NBC's Doc Emrick. Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard had no chance. As the second period ended, with the score one-to-nothing, the numbers were trending towards Chicago.
The teams that score first in NHL Game 7's win about 75 percent of the time. The home teams win over 60 percent of the time, and Chicago's United Center was living up to the nickname the Madhouse on Madison. The fans were pumped up for a third period. Their team had such a spectacular regular season but had been on the brink of elimination in this series for the last three games. But almost as soon as the puck was dropped in the third period, Detroit deflated the faithful. Twenty-six seconds in and Doc Emrick had the call.
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DOC EMRICK: Pushed on through and ahead comes Nyquist. Nyquist finessed it across - they score. Zetterberg and the game is tied.
PESCA: Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg is something of a magician. At one point in the third he simply danced with the puck in the corner like he was playing Three-Card Monte. But it resulted in little more than a respite of artistry amidst the brutality of playoff hockey. Time ticked down, and this game seemed headed for overtime.
But then, with less than two minutes left, it happened - Hjalmarsson netted what appeared to be the game winner. But off to the side Red Wing Kyle Quincey and Blackhawk Brandon Saad had begun grappling. That was where the referee's focus was and that was why the go ahead goal was waived off.
It was an odd time to get strict. Even Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock noted acknowledged that much after the game.
MIKE BABCOCK: These games are hotly contested. They're real hard to officiate. You know, there's - if this is a regular season game, it'd just be a parade to the penalty box.
PESCA: Instead it doused the Blackhawks' parade. In hockey a pair of two-minute penalties is known as coincidental minors. More like unfathomable blunders in the minds of this Chicago crowd. But all the Chicago players would later speak of a resolute the locker room was in between the third period and overtime. And about four minutes into that overtime session, Brent Seabrook saw a puck dribbling his way and...
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PESCA: Seabrook later cited instinct, luck.
BRENT SEABROOK: You know, a tight series like this - I think we were talking about it in the room - it was going to take an ugly goal to win this. And, you know, I just tried to get it on net and it bounced and went in.
PESCA: Chicago had the best record in the regular season - one of the best winning percentages of any team in NHL history, in fact. Now they face the defending champion Los Angeles Kings. On the other side of the country, the Bruins skate against Pittsburgh, meaning the NHL's Final 4 is made up of the last four teams to win the Stanley Cup. But for the Blackhawks and their fans, they're just happy to have the chance to handle some more of the hubbub at home.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.