As players broke off in their respective media scrums on Tuesday afternoon, the word heard in just about all of them was “fun.”
As in, “Game 7s are fun.” The ultimate elimination game, the finale of every NHL series, is “fun.” And it’s what the Chicago Blackhawks were talking about regarding their Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings tomorrow night at the United Center.
But this is truly what players live for: that big final contest that decides who moves on and who starts scheduling beach and tee times. And to be a part of that is worth all the pressure that obviously has to accompany it.
“There’s something about playing a Game 7. You feel like every shift, every chance you get, there may be an opportunity to change the game in favor of your team,” Jonathan Toews said. “Whether it’s the first time for some of the guys in our room or not at all, everyone’s going to embrace that opportunity and we’re looking forward to it tomorrow.”
The Red Wings are feeling the same Game 7 enthusiasm.
“It’s going to be a blast,” Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “Starting from warm-ups, you know the crowd is going to be loud; it’s going to be a great atmosphere. That’s exactly what you want in a Game 7.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock agreed, as long as that fun outlook is mixed with the right amount of focus and determination.
“You have to be at the right level for you,” he told reporters upon the Wings’ arrival to Chicago today. “Loose is a great way to be, but you have to be intense about what you’re doing, too. There’s a fine line there. When players are talking about being loose, they’re not talking about being loose in a bar, they’re talking about being loose enough to execute, to do good things, to feel good about themselves. You don’t want to be all wound up, but you want to be amped enough to be at the best of your ability. That’s the challenge to walk along that fine line.”
The Blackhawks’ upbeat attitude has gotten them here. Well, that and their improvement throughout the series and right focus. They’re back to getting more out of each and every line, back to tapping into their depth. Their penalty kill remains strong and their power play actually looks like, well, a power play.
“You have to commend the guys on their approach, their focus and preparation,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You can feel it: guys want to be on the ice, they’re comfortable out there. We’re definitely ready. We’re excited about the opportunity. I like the way we played the last couple of games and we want to play our best game tomorrow.”
They’re going to have to. The Red Wings had two chances to close the Blackhawks out but failed to do so. They’re going to be determined to eliminate them in their third chance and being on the road isn’t going to disarm them. They did, after all, beat the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center in their first-round Game 7.
“Obviously it’s do or die for both teams: one team’s season’s going to be over tomorrow night. We don’t want it to be us,” Duncan Keith said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to push them out and move on.”
The fun of playing in the Game 7 will be there for the Blackhawks and Red Wings tomorrow night. It’ll probably be there, along with the intensity, as the game continues. But it’s still an elimination game And as Michal Handzus said, they’re fun as long as you come out on the right end of them.
“In all of them, when you win them they’re fun and when you lose them they’re not,” he said to laughs. “They’re going to play their best and we have to be ready. We have to be on our toes.”