And for nearly four glorious minutes on Tuesday night, the rest of the NHL earned a glimpse of the way the new 3-on-3 overtime format is meant to be played: fearlessly.
Artemi Panarin ended the chaos with a wrist shot over Marc-Andre Fleury 3:47 into the extra session to lift the Blackhawks to a 3-2 victory on Tuesday night as Chicago survived a late Pittsburgh rally to win its fourth straight.
“I thought the overtime was great for the sport,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Both teams had A++ chances and the right guys were getting them and the goaltending display was fun to watch.”
Panarin finished with two goals, including the winner off a feed from Patrick Kane as Chicago fended off the resilient Penguins, who erased a 2-0 deficit in the third period behind goals from Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang.
It set the stage for a dazzling back-and-forth overtime, with two of the league’s most skilled teams taking advantage of the wide swathes of open ice available when there are six skaters on the surface instead of 10. They traded opportunities — with Fleury making a doorstep stop on Marian Hossa on one end and Corey Crawford denying Phil Kessel twice at the other — before Kane set up Panarin for his 13th of the year.
Jonathan Toews got his 14th goal of the season for Chicago. Kane finished with two assists to boost his point total to an NHL-best 59. Crawford made 34 saves for the Blackhawks and was helped by a handful of Pittsburgh shots that clanged off the posts and out of harm’s way.
Crosby scored his 12th of the season and sixth in his last six games to start Pittsburgh’s comeback. Letang added his fourth with a shot from the point with 2:50 to play to force overtime. Fleury stopped 27 shots in the first game of a home-and-home with the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“What I loved about our group was the resilience,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We just keep playing. We raised our intensity level when we had to. That’s a great sign for this team.”
Chicago appeared to be firmly in control going into the third and managed to improve to 17-0-1 when leading after two, but this one was harder than most.
Crosby gave Pittsburgh life when he ripped a wrist shot by Crawford’s blocker 5:54 into the third. He nearly added another after the ensuing faceoff only to have his backhand beat Crawford but hit the post. Letang finally tied it with less than 3 minutes remaining when his blind shot from the point emerged from a sea of jerseys to slip by Crawford’s glove.
The Penguins earned at least one point for the sixth time in their last seven games and appear to be figuring things out under Sullivan, their once-sleepy offence getting a need jolt from its stars and a rejuvenated power play that was converting nearly 40 per cent of its opportunities since Dec. 19.
“Stay with it, don’t get frustrated and trust the puck would go in,” Crosby said. “That was really important. That’s a point we’re looking at down the line looks like a big one.”
Pittsburgh came in on the outside of the playoffs looking, not exactly the place the Penguins and their cap-strapped roster built to win now — right now — want to be nearing the season’s midway point.
There are no such concerns in Chicago, which seems to have avoided any sort of letdown following a third Stanley Cup in five years last spring. The Blackhawks are the dynasty Pittsburgh envisioned it would become when Crosby and Malkin raised the Cup in 2009. Six-plus years later the Penguins are still waiting to bookend that brilliant run while Chicago chugs right along behind Kane, Toews and a style of play that seems to translate regardless of the opponent.
Sullivan has spent his first few weeks on the job repeatedly telling his players to get themselves and the puck to the net, preferably in that order. The evidence his message is starting to seep in came during wins over Detroit and the New York Islanders last week, which included a stretch in which the Penguins scored 10 straight goals.
Pittsburgh’s best sustained pressure came midway through the second but couldn’t sneak anything by Crawford and Chicago countered with a 2-on-1 between Kane and Panarin that ended with Panarin burying a one-timer off a feed from Kane to put the Blackhawks up 8:47 into the second.
Chicago doubled the lead late in the second when Brent Seabrook banged a shot from the right circle off of Toews in front of the net with 1:14 to go only to see the advantage disappear during arguably Pittsburgh’s best period of the season.
NOTES: The Blackhawks are 9-4 in overtime this season. The Penguins are 4-5. … Chicago scratched D Michal Rozsival and F Brandon Mashinter. … The Penguins scratched D Adam Clendening, D David Warsofsky and F Scott Wilson. … Pittsburgh has killed off 19 straight penalties.