A 3-1 series deficit, a disallowed goal – make that two – a few hit posts and crossbars: it’s a frustrating group of circumstances, and the Chicago Blackhawks faced all of that in their second-round series.
But they got past it, all of it. It was a test of mettle that the Blackhawks faced, and they passed with flying colors. Now, as they prepare for their Western Conference Final series against the Los Angeles Kings, they know the tests, mental as much as physical, will continue. But they’re confident that they can roll with it.
“You don’t draw it up don’t plan to win a seven-game series coming back from 3-1 down. But looking back, it was a good thing for us to go through what we did; to be pushed to the edge and think for a moment, that was it,” Jonathan Toews said following Friday’s practice. “We stayed positive, stuck with it. We had that attitude if you take one shift at a time, one game at a time, anything can happen.”
The Blackhawks didn’t deal with a ton of adversity this regular season. How much would there be, considering a 24-game unbeaten streak to start the season and no more than a two-game losing streak throughout it? So that first true test came in the second round, and general manager Stan Bowman was impressed with the Blackhawks’ response.
“It's tough when you face your biggest hurdle at a critical moment in the playoffs, when it's do or die,” he said. “I think at that point, you need your experienced guys to come through.”
Bowman credited coach Joel Quenneville and his staff, as well, for the focus.
“Joel has been in a lot of situations in his career, and he understands how to get the team going,” Bowman said. “You can't panic. You have to have confidence in your ability. I think we did that. It wasn't easy. Obviously they were all close games. But I guess 'proud' would be the word. We know what these guys can do. We still have a lot of work left to do. But we know when we're tested, we can rise to the challenge.”
Indeed, Quenneville did push some of the right buttons going down the stretch. He put the ultra-scoring threat line of Patrick Sharp, Toews and Patrick Kane together. He put a struggling Brent Seabrook back together with his longtime defensive partner Duncan Keith.
New combinations or not, it still wouldn’t be easy to let some tough breaks slide. Exhibit A was that disallowed Niklas Hjalmarsson goal in the waning regulation minutes of Game 7. But Marian Hossa said if the Blackhawks wanted to stay alive in the postseason, they had to get past it.
“When the ref makes a call it’s not going back. You’re wasting your time if you argue or think about it. It’s better to move on and focus,” Hossa said. “We learned a lot from that and did a good job last series.”
The Blackhawks passed a few big adversity tests last round. They’re likely not the last. The postseason is all about breaks, some of which going against you. It’s about getting those out of your head fast. It’s about working through the physical aches and pains that come with this time of year, telling yourself you still have the energy even when your legs are saying otherwise. The Blackhawks learned some important adversity lessons last round. They’ll apply them accordingly moving forward.
“We’re taking a lot of confidence out of that experience,” Toews said. “It just goes to show any situation we come into in this next series, we’ll welcome the challenge.”