COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ben Smith had the closest look and he likened it to mayhem.
Antti Raanta had the worst view on the ice and to him it was a thing of beauty.
Smith tapped in a rebound with 3.7 seconds left on a wild scrum to give the Chicago Blackhawks a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night.
With time running out, Duncan Keith threw the puck on net and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky blocked it with his arm but it popped out of his reach. While he and two teammates scrambled to get to the loose puck, Smith got a stick on it and pushed it into the net.
“(Keith) is so good at getting pucks through—that first shot almost went in. I don’t think he saw it,” Smith said of Bobrovsky. “It was just kind of a mad scramble in front with people going to the net. Somehow, the puck found its way in.”
When the official pointed to the puck to signify the goal was good, it touched off a wild celebration from a large throng of Chicago fans in the capacity crowd. It also deflated the playoff hopes of the Blue Jackets, not to mention the thousands of their fans in a crowd of 18,695.
“We came up 3 seconds short,” said Columbus defenceman Dalton Prout, part of the pile of players trying to clear the puck as time sifted away.
At the far end of the rink, Raanta, giving front-line netminder Corey Crawford a night off by making 24 saves, flashed a wide smile when Smith’s inside work paid off.
“You can imagine how that feels when there is only 3 seconds on the clock and we score the winning goal,” he said. “The feeling was very, very nice.”
Jeremy Morin, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa also had goals for Chicago, while Keith had three assists.
The reigning Stanley Cup champions have already locked up their sixth straight playoff appearance. But they had dropped three games in a row and were without superstar forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, both sidelined with injuries, heading into a home game with Minnesota on Thursday night.
But a shootout win before the home crowd and then the late victory in Columbus—against a team desperate for points in something akin to playoff conditions—has brightened the picture even more for the Blackhawks.
“You play the right way and you give yourself a chance,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You get balance and you keep yourself mentally aware of what you need to do, play the team system and everybody complements each other. The last two wins are very exciting from where we were just a couple of days ago.”
Columbus started the night with a tenuous grasp on the second wild-card spot in the East. But with games running out—and opportunities for points slipping away—all of the Blue Jackets realized how costly the late goal could end up being.
“It’s a tough one to swallow, but we have to move on,” said Matt Calvert, also in the midst of the scrum at the end.
Derek MacKenzie, Ryan Johansen and Artem Anisimov scored for Columbus and Bobrovsky had 34 saves. The Blue Jackets fell to 0-10-3 in their last 13 meetings with the Blackhawks.
Midway through the third with the game tied at 3, Raanta made the stop of the game after Calvert intercepted a pass and zoomed in all alone. Raanta deflected his shot and the game remained tied.
Bobrovsky then stopped a blast by Bryan Bickell and smothered Morin’s shot from his knees in the slot with less than 5 minutes remaining.
Then came the wild finish after both teams had seemed content to get to overtime with a point.
But Smith, at the edge of the goal cage, was able to get to the puck after Prout and Calvert were unable to clear it and Bobrovsky couldn’t fall on it.
“I went in and told the players, ‘It’s a hard loss but we’ve got to move past it,'” Columbus coach Todd Richards said. “You can’t let your highs get too high. And right now we can’t let the lows get too low. This group has been pretty resilient all year. There’s been times all year when people have counted us out and the guys have responded.”
NOTES: Blue Jackets D David Savard played in his 100th NHL game. … Chicago returns home for games with St. Louis and Montreal before closing out the regular season at Washington and Nashville. … Columbus opened a three-game homestand, then ends the regular season with three on the road.