CHICAGO -- Even as Michal Handzus was slicing to the net early in double overtime, sending a backhand past Jonathan Quick to extend the Chicago Blackhawks' season and end a memorable night of playoff hockey, there was Patrick Kane gliding almost ghost-like out of the frame.
Kane's work on the winning goal in this 5-4 thrillfest was done earlier in the play. The Blackhawks winger sent a deft little pass to new linemate Brandon Saad and then took defender Alec Martinez out of the play to allow Handzus to break into the clear.
It was a building-block play on what now stands as the most important goal of the Blackhawks' spring, one that sends the two teams back across the continent to Los Angeles for Game 6 on Friday night.
It was the kind of building-block play that Kane made on three other Blackhawk goals as he delivered a virtuoso four-assist performance after having just one lonely assist through the first four games of this Western Conference finals series.
"Well, it was good. I think my teammates made me look good out there, to be honest with you," Kane said. "It's a huge win for us, and it's always nice to contribute. That's kind of the mindset going forward here for the rest of the series and the rest of the playoffs. Try and contribute any way you can every night. Whether it's on the score sheet or any other way you can, so it was a good start."
Not that we haven't seen these kinds of nights from Kane before.
He's a two-time Stanley Cup winner, he scored the OT winner in Game 6 to win the 2010 championship and he was the playoff MVP during last spring's Cup run.
But with his team looking like it was ready to take a knee against a Los Angeles Kings team that might as well have had "juggernaut" tattooed on it in winning three straight, Kane delivered the goods in a manner that can only add to his considerable legend.
After four games that saw Kane looking more than a little out of sorts, his swagger returned with a vengeance as he controlled the puck with that familiar Kane flare all evening.
"I don't look at the stats like that; whenever he has the puck he makes everybody around him better," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "Even if he doesn't have points, he's still making plays and creating chances for our team."
It's only one game, and the Blackhawks needs two more to continue their title defense. But first things first.
On a night being heralded as a playoff classic -- the first overtime period featured a stretch of almost eight minutes of uninterrupted frenzy and lasted 26 minutes in real time -- Kane was the catalyst to a memorable win for a desperate Blackhawks team.
As he did in Game 4, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville juggled around his lines, and on this night his defensive pairings, moving Kane onto a line with Saad and Andrew Shaw.
"Our biggest thing going into the game was to try and get pucks back and create off the turnovers in their end. You saw that a few times," Kane said.
The coaching decision worked, quite frankly, like magic, with the line scoring an even-strength goal to give the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead just 3:40 into the game.
They scored again at 11:06 to restore the two-goal lead after the Kings had gotten on the board, and you imagined that a trip to Game 6 was pretty much assured.
The Kings scored three unanswered goals, including two just two minutes apart in the middle of the second period to take a 4-3 lead, and you could feel the air being drained out of the United Center.
This was the Kings' modus operandi -- keep pushing and pushing no matter what and wait for the opponent to buckle. It was how they rolled to a 3-1 lead in this series, and it appeared as though it would see them vault past the defending Cup champs and into their second Stanley Cup finals in three years.
But early in the third, Ben Smith tied the game, and the Blackhawks peppered Quick with 16 third-period shots but couldn't regain the lead.
The first overtime was a blur of dynamic offense and desperate defense.
Even the Kings, disappointed that they could not hold the third-period lead and close out the Blackhawks, who had closed them out in a double-overtime thriller in Game 5 a year ago, seemed to embrace their part in the drama.
"It's not easy, it's never going to be easy, especially against the defending champions and a team that's won and knows how to win. No one said it would be easy," offered Jarret Stoll, who got the Kings on the board midway through the first period.
"It's a good hockey game, it's a great hockey game. Anytime you get double overtime and two good teams going at it, it's going to be a great hockey game. At points there we were like, 'Jeez, maybe get a cover here?' But it's good hockey for the fans, they were into it, both teams were into it and it was fun."
The Blackhawks came out to start the second overtime with good jump, and just 2:04 into the frame, Handzus, Kane, Saad et al. finished the job.
These Kings are a very dangerous lot. But apparently, so, too, are the Chicago Blackhawks thanks to Kane's star turn in Game 5.
"He's a special player," Quenneville said of Kane. "They've been tight on him, they have a tight gap, and it's tough to get through the neutral zone possession. But he had some good looks. Read off his linemates there and seemed to figure things out quickly.
"He anticipates as good as any player, anticipation with the puck as good as anyone. Nice to see him have a night like that."
Not that Kane's teammates appeared all that surprised.
"We have a lot of character, a lot of guys that are like that," said defenseman Johnny Oduya. "Going to face an even more hostile game coming up, so it's nice to have those guys.
"You know that they [the Kings] like these kinds of challenges and they play better."
So often in the playoffs we say of teams on the rocks that their star players have to be their best players. It is so easy to say, but it is rare that a player actually delivers the goods in such a moment.
Well, maybe not so rare for a player like Kane.