CHICAGO -- Dustin Byfuglien's second winning goal in as many games has the Chicago Blackhawks in their first Stanley Cup Final in 18 years.
Two days after scoring in overtime in Game 3, Byfuglien's power-play goal with 5:55 remaining capped a two-goal rally and gave the Blackhawks a 4-2 victory against the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday afternoon.
The victory capped a four-game sweep and gives Chicago a chance to play for its first championship since 1961.
"It doesn't get any better," defenseman Duncan Keith said in an on-ice interview immediately following the game. "This is what we play for and dream of since we're kids. It's going to be a hell of a time and we're going to have a lot of fun."
Byfuglien's goal was set up after Dany Heatley took a slashing penalty against Patrick Kane. With the power play in its waning seconds, Kane fired the puck toward the crease, where Byfuglien was able to stuff the puck past Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. It was his third game-winning goal of the series, as he also had the decisive tally in Game 1.
The bedlam officially started when Kris Versteeg scored into an empty net with 42 seconds remaining.
Dave Bolland and Brent Seabrook scored in the second period for the Blackhawks to erase a 2-0 deficit. Patrick Marleau picked up his eighth of the playoffs, while Logan Couture also scored for the Sharks.
"They certainly deserved the series," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "I thought we played hard with them. We competed with them. You know, we battled. We were in every minute of every game, but we were the second-place team."
Antti Niemi hardly broke a sweat while making just 16 saves. Nabokov wasn't much busier, stopping 23 of 26 shots.
"We didn't get the start we wanted but we stuck with it," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "We wanted to get it done at home. It was just four games, but it felt longer than that."
For the third time in those four games, the Sharks struck first.
Devin Setoguchi fired a long shot from the left wing boards that didn't get through to Niemi. However, it took a fortuitous bounce off the stick of Keith and right onto the tape of Couture, who whipped a quick wrister over Niemi's catching glove at 11:08.
The Blackhawks struggled to find their game in the first period. After 15 minutes of play, they had just one shot on goal. They also lost Andrew Ladd to an undisclosed injury, forcing coach Joel Quenneville to mix and match his bottom-eight forwards for the rest of the game.
San Jose grabbed a 2-0 lead 7:35 into the second period thanks to some great defense and a lucky bounce.
With the Blackhawks on a power play, Kane was set up in the right circle for a one-timer into a mostly empty net. But Sharks defenseman Marc Edouard Vlasic went down to block the shot. The puck found Marleau, who tried to send it the length of the ice.
That's when good fortune found the Sharks.
Marleau's clearing attempt caught Keith up high around his face and stunned him. Marleau was able to start the shorthanded rush the other way. Vlasic moved up on the 3-on-2 and set up Marleau for the one-timer that gave the Sharks their first two-goal lead of the series.
"We got some bad breaks, Dunc got one in the mouth that caused a goal, but we stayed with it," center John Madden said.
The Blackhawks appeared to cut the lead to 2-1 with a power-play goal with 7:12 left in the second period, but the goal was waved off because Toews cross-checked Vlasic to the ice seconds before the puck crossed the line.
Just 27 seconds later, the Blackhawks did get on the board, but it wasn't easy.
The teams were skating 4-on-4 with Toews in the box for his cross check on Vlasic and Heatley in the box for hooking Brian Campbell. The open ice gave Seabrook enough room to glide to the front of the net and get a shot on Nabokov. The puck sat at Nabokov's feet for what seemed like an eternity before it was whacked through his legs.
However, it was originally ruled no goal because the puck was quickly swept back out of the net. Replays showed the puck crossed the line entirely and the goal was awarded to Seabrook, his third of the postseason.
Bolland drew the Blackhawks even with his fifth goal of the playoffs with 1:22 left in the second period. He beat Couture to the puck behind the net and wheeled out in front. His wrist shot ricocheted off the mid-section of Sharks defenseman and past Nabokov to set the stage for the decisive third period.
The Sharks nearly grabbed the lead in the first minute of the final period when Setoguchi let a long wrist shot go that hit Marleau on the way to the net, then the crossbar. But the rebound landed in the crease and Niemi covered it.
Best shift: Dustin Byfuglien will get the accolades, but Patrick Kane was the catalyst on the game-winning goal. He controlled the puck in the Sharks’ zone during a power play for what seemed like an eternity before finding Byfuglien in the crease. His perfect pass made it easy for Byfuglien to whack it home and send the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Final.
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