Blackhawks Confidential

Blackhawks, Huet go down fighting in overtime to Detroit

There is no way to lose better than this. The Blackhawks aren't as good as the Detroit Red Wings, but in Wednesday night's 2-1 overtime loss they were just as feisty and just as competitive and won an enormous amount of respect if not a trip to the Stanley Cup championship.

That's never good enough, of course, since winning games has no adequate substitute, but it will have to suffice for another long hot summer of what might have been at the United Center. The finals begin Saturday when Pittsburgh and superstar Sid "The Kid" Crosby try to stop the Wings from repeating as champions.

Goalie Cristobal Huet, doubted after a shaky Game 4 performance, played the game of his life at Joe Louis Arena, one that bodes well for a promising future for the young Chicago club. His right-pad kick save against Johan Franzen in the waning seconds of regulation will always be shown through the years as a Blackhawks highlight,a memory that will never fade.

The Western Conference finals could have ended right there. But Huet refused to let it happen that easily in Game 5, raising his pad to keep on playing a while longer as he laid out prone on his stomach, vulnerable to whatever came his way and yet unwilling to surrender.

However, in overtime, Detroit's dashing Darren Helm sustained the energy that he had brought to the game the whole night. The little sparkplug, who is proof that size is relative even in a game of hit-and-hit-back, scored the winning goal for a 2-1 decision in overtime.

He was in the right place at the right time, just right of the crease, as Tomas Holmstrom's shot from the left side deflected his way and didn't permit Huet enough time to cover both sides of the players' strangling pressure.

"We had a lot of shots on net and he did a really good job,'' Helm said in praise of Huet.

As for himself, Helm humbly acknowledged he's not a household name. "A lot of guys are relied on on this team that aren't big names,'' he said.

The Hawks need more guys like that.

Huet stopped 41 shots in regulation play, giving up just a Daniel Cleary deflection off a shot from the point by defenseman Brett Lebda with 13:52 to go in the third period. That seemed enough to carry the Wings to victory until Patrick Kane scored his first goal of the series off his sheer talent.

Seldom a factor in the series as he got caught up in trying to play too much of an individual game on the rush, this time Kane used speed down the right side of the offensive zone and elevated a backhander past the left shoulder of goalie Chris Osgood. The beauty of it was breathtaking.

With just over seven mintes to play, the Hawks suddenly had a chance to bring a Game 6 back to Chicago Saturday.

In the end, it was missed opportunities earlier in the night that will stick in the Hawks' minds as sore points.

Colin Fraser had a chance to splash his name across the headlines in rare fashion, playing here for the first time since the first round against Calgary. He replaced the injured Martin Havlat and had a few good scoring chances against Chris Osgood.

It could have been Fraser rather than Helm that emerged as the unlikely hero. Alas, it wasn't to be.

Dave Bolland, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Troy Brouwer also saw their chances to score the big Chicago goal that could have made a difference go awry.

Through it all, the Hawks' spirit never wavered. Oh, they were outshot 31-21 after two periods, but there was no quit in them.

 "Huet's a good goalie," Osgood said. "Goalies know each other. I knew he was going to bounce back. It was a shorter series than we thought, but every game was tight."

Except for the Hawks' miserable effort in Game 4, a 6-1 loser in Chicago when frustrations mounted into too many penalties and the club fell apart by losing its head.

It's the close defeats to Detroit that will have the Hawks looking back on the little things that could have made a difference.

Once goalie Nikolai Khabibulin bowed out with a lower-body injury after two periods of Game 3, the Hawks offense scored a total of three goals the rest of the way.

Not even Tony Esposito is going to win with that small amount of support.

Rising stars Kane and Jonathan Toews hopefully absorbed this postseason experience so that they will be better prepared next time.

Although Hawks fans know that next time can mean many seasons down the road.

The Hawks have raised expectations enough that they must return to the playoffs next season or risk alienating a fan base that is willing to believe again that hockey is back in Chicago.

Huet, Kane and Toews, as well as many others on the Hawks, leave us with a good taste in our mouths. But that taste isn't as good as championship champagne.



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