Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard hunched over in front of the crease and peered through his mask.
His eyes were locked on Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, who was standing down the ice behind the puck. It was the second round of a shootout March 3 in Detroit, and an intense rivalry game hung in the balance. After sending it to overtime with an exhilarating late goal, it now was Kane's turn in the shootout.
He raced toward the puck, scooped it onto his stick at center ice and took off toward Howard.
"I knew it was coming," Howard said. "I knew exactly [what he'd do] … that he was going to come in and do a hundred stick moves. But it's tough to defend."
Howard was right on both counts.
Kane did use the move that's come to be known around Chicago as "that crazy slowdown deal with all the dekes," and it was tough to defend. In fact, Howard didn't defend it and the Blackhawks won 2-1.
Howard might not have seen the last of it, either. The Blackhawks and Red Wings meet again Friday, and could face off in the playoffs.
During the March shootout, after Kane pulled up just inside Detroit's blue line, he used a now-familiar mesmerizing combination of stick-handling maneuvers while creeping forward. Howard tried matching his speed in a slow backward glide, staying center, but it didn't matter. Kane waited until the Detroit goalie was nearly asleep and ripped a wrist shot past the stick side for the shootout-deciding goal.
"It's tough just because ... when you learn growing up [how to defend] breakaways and all that, it's all about timing—going out and [gliding back] within a stick length of the guy's stick," Howard said. "So when they come in that slow, it's definitely tough—especially when he's stick-handling 100 mph. You just never know when he's going to shoot it. You think, 'OK, well … how many more is he going to do?' He sort of just hypnotizes you."
And that's just for those taking the conservative approach. Others have gotten burned by lunging for the puck or sliding, even slightly, to one side or the other. Kane has now used "the move" six times since unveiling it last season, on Dec. 14, 2011, to beat Minnesota in a shootout—and he's been stopped only twice.
One triumphant goalie was, of all people, Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, who snuffed it out Feb. 1 to help beat the Blackhawks.
Kane also went to it while playing for EHC Biel in the Swiss League during the NHL lockout. He roasted Ambri-Piotta's Cory Schneider—who filed an informal complaint with Kane afterward.
"He said, 'That move should be illegal, because you're taking too much time,' " Kane said. "It's not like a real breakaway, but I think it's definitely something I can work off of a little bit."
In other words, it gives him multiple options.
Kane could slow up and shoot more quickly than expected, wait out a netminder like he did with Howard or do any combination of moves in between. He's scored the deciding goal in three Blackhawks shootout wins so far, two with the slowdown move, and isn't worried about going to the well too often.
"It's all about instinct, to be honest with you," Kane said. "You just come down, slow up and try to make some moves until the goalie bites one way or the other. Hopefully you have an open net or a chance to just flip it in."
On March 14 in Columbus, Kane even lost the puck momentarily during the stick handling segment. He still had the wherewithal to collect it, see Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky out of position and flick it into the net.
Bobrovsky threw his head back in disgust.
"When I'm doing it, I'm not trying to think of doing this exact move or 'OK, I'm going to pull it to my backhand here,'" Kane said. "It's just making a move to get him to bite one way—and if that doesn't work, then you're going slow enough to where you have time to make another fake. It's all about instinct."
It's also catching on with high school players in the Chicago area. Earlier this winter, Glenbrook North forward Nick Day clinched a shootout win against rival Loyola by using a similar move.
"That's cool," Kane said. "I remember when I was a kid, trying all the moves the NHL guys were doing in the All-Star Game. I was always looking at the skills competition to see if a guy did a fancy move or something to get you excited. It's fun."
Kane has an assortment of moves in his quiver. The shootout slowdown, however, is still one of the best.
"It's a good move," said Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who's stopped a couple of them in practice shootouts. "You've almost got to just stay in the middle of the net, because if you start to get out to one side, he's just so quick at bringing it back … and then you're done."
Brian Hedger is a RedEye special contributor. @brianhedger
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