It was there, the game and likely the series, hanging in the balance, everything tied up at 2-2. First, the Anaheim Ducks – playing before a capacity home crowd Wednesday that even included some standing-room attendees – dominated the early going and managed 18 first-period shots.
After the break, the Detroit Red Wings took control and for a time in the second period, Anaheim's defensive play was so discombobulated, the game took on a real Keystone Cops feel for a time. Predictably, it settled down in the third, the teams knowing their playoff lives could be on the line.
Ultimately, it turned – as playoff games so often do – on an overtime moment produced by the Ducks' Ben Lovejoy 1:54 in. As Lovejoy went down the wall, the puck skipped over his stick, momentarily freezing his check, the Red Wings' Gustav Nyquist. Lovejoy regained control of the puck, and shoveled it in front to Nick Bonino, who fired it into the open net for a 3-2 Anaheim win. It also gives the Ducks a 3-2 lead in the series, with Game 6 set for Detroit on Friday.
According to Lovejoy, "I really wanted to shoot the bouncing puck, but I couldn't control it. I was able to get a little toe-drag in and able to hit Nick back door.
"Mentally, that was a huge win for us. We've struggled in this series in overtime against that team. I wouldn't say - actually I would say - they've had our number in overtime. Our ultimate goal is to beat this team in this series and win the Stanley Cup and you're not going to do that if you can't win overtime games."
In all, it was a highly entertaining game, mostly played at a furious pace, and featuring some of the best goaltending of the opening round. Both the Red Wings' Jimmy Howard and the Ducks' Jonas Hiller took turns making timely saves to keep their teams in the game, as the momentum seesawed back and forth all night.
The Ducks also received a strong game from their team captain, Ryan Getzlaf, who scored the second-period tying goal and helped change the momentum of a game that had swung dramatically in Detroit's favour for a time. Playing with a 2-1 lead, the Wings had a chance to put it away when the Ducks Daniel Winnik was called for a boarding major against Danny Cleary. But Anaheim's penalty killing managed to kill most of it off, and then Getzlaf drew a penalty with time running out. Once Winnik was back on the ice, Getzlaf scored on a nicely placed shot that fooled Howard.
"It was important, that was a huge kill for our group," said Getzlaf. "A five-minute power play, it's tough.
"Tonight was a pretty even hockey game. It went both ways at different times. The goaltending made some big saves at both ends. Obviously, we want to shore things up a little bit, but we got the first period we wanted and that was important."
As Getzlaf implied, the Ducks were unlucky to get out of the first period with no better than a 1-1 saw-off, after dominating the run of play. But they'd given up an early power-play goal to Johan Franzen, which stood up for the longest time.
Franzen, known as the Mule, had been a dominating playoff scorer for the Red Wings during consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup finals a few years back and this was his third of this year's post-season, as he's looking like a dangerous forward again. But on his goal, he got a favourable carom off Sheldon Souray's skate, a rebound that came right back onto his stick – and he made no mistake, poking in a backhand with the Ducks' Corey Perry in the penalty box for goaltender interference.
Howard kept the Ducks off the score sheet until the 17th shot of the period, a seeing-eye wrister from Kyle Palmieri. As five players moved in unison across the slot, Palmieri turned and fired a shot through traffic that Howard couldn't possibly see until it was behind him in the net.
The Red Wings came out with a far greater purpose in the second and controlled play, but didn't get a second shot past Hiller until the frequently injured Mikael Samuelsson scored his first goal in over a year by converting the rebound of a Henrik Zetterberg shot on a two-on-one rush. It was Hiller's only weak moment of the period, needlessly surrendering a fat rebound on a shot from Zetterberg that shouldn't have given him that much trouble.
But Hiller immediately followed by stopping Damien Brunner on a clear breakaway, as the Ducks' defensive coverage completely fell apart for a time. Next, Francois Beauchemin dangerously put a clearing attempt right on Pavel Datsyuk's stick, but Hiller stepped up and stopped his chance as well.
The Red Wings had an excellent opportunity to edge ahead at the 14:15 mark of the second when Winnik received a five-minute boarding major for pasting Danny Cleary into the boards behind the Detroit goal. Winnik was coming in hard on the forecheck and had Cleary lined up, just as the Red Wings' winger tried to reverse the puck behind the net and briefly exposed his numbers.
But the Ducks' penalty killers settled matters down and then received a key play from Getzlaf, who drew a holding penalty from rookie Brendan Smith, with Anaheim playing a man down.
Just 13 seconds after Winnik's return, Getzlaf backed the Detroit defence off, looking as if he were trying to pass. But with Matt Beleskey streaking to the goal, Getzlaf put his head down and fired a shot past Howard, squaring the game at 2-2 after 40 minutes.
Bonino may have scored the winner, but he noted how important Getzlaf's contributions were to getting the Ducks back in the game – and then settling the team down heading into overtime. Twice previously in the series, the Red Wings were the team that emerged victorious in the extra session, so the Ducks figured they were due for a break.
"You can't say enough about him," said Bonino. "He's a true leader. Every night he's doing something – he's blocking shots, he's playing well defensively, and that's when he doesn't score. Most nights, he does score. That's the guy you want as your leader. That's how you look up to."