With scripts flipped, Hawks know series isn't over

With scripts flipped, Hawks know series isn't over
June 7, 2013, 6:15 pm
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Hawks-Kings Game 5

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Just two Fridays ago the Chicago Blackhawks were on the precipice of their season’s end.

They lost to the Detroit Red Wings the night before, falling into a 3-1 second-round series hole. They know what it’s like to have their backs against the wall, what it’s like to just say “heck with it” and play with determined abandon, and what it’s like to erase that deficit and advance to the next round.

The Blackhawks know the Los Angeles Kings, down 3-1 in the Western Conference Final after Chicago’s 3-2 victory Thursday night, are experiencing all of that right now. And when the Kings throw that desperate, determined, do-or-die game Saturday night, the Blackhawks plan to act like they’re in the same boat.

Thanks to their inspired Duncan Keith-less Game 4 victory, the Blackhawks have a chance to close out a series in five games for the second time this postseason. They’ll look to slam the door on the defending Stanley Cup champs, when they host the Kings in Game 5 at the United Center. The Kings are now where the Blackhawks found themselves in Round 2. But the Blackhawks said they want to play like they’re the ones facing elimination again.

“That’s what we said the last couple of games in L.A.,” Jonathan Toews said. “Obviously being up 2-0 or 2-1, you know the other team’s going to come after you hard. But it’s up to you to motivate yourself, to put yourself in that position where you’re in a seventh game or your back’s against the wall and you play with the most desperation. We did that yesterday and we’ll go forward with that tomorrow.”

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The Blackhawks had reason to tap into that desperation in Game 4, despite being up 2-1. Minus Keith due to suspension and facing a Kings team that entered the game 8-0 at Staples Center this postseason, the Blackhawks were motivated to avoid coming back to Chicago with a series tied 2-2. Whatever they told themselves manifested itself in the game, with the pack mentality that’s been the Blackhawks’ modus operandi all season.

Now facing that cliché “hardest-to-win” fourth game, the Blackhawks want to match, if not dominate in the field of desperation hockey.

“The other team faces elimination and that’s when they’ll fight the hardest. We had that the other series, and that’s when we woke up,” Johnny Oduya said. “By no means do you look at it any other way than that, knowing you have to play the best you can.”

Granted, there are a few differences between the two series. The Blackhawks were snake-bit through a few of those early games vs. Detroit, hitting posts and crossbars and having a goal – eventually two – disallowed. They were, and still are, healthy. The Kings, meanwhile, look like they’re feeling the effects of their first two series, bruising and physical ones against St. Louis and then San Jose. Still, when you’re desperate, you can get past that. The Blackhawks’ attitude and mental toughness during their deficit stayed strong, and it translated into improved play on the ice. The Kings certainly have the talent to keep this series alive.

“Everyone has to be aware that tomorrow’s going to be a heck of a battle. They’re the Cup champs for a reason,” head coach Joel Quenneville said. “Let’s do what we have to do. Games 1, 2 and 4, we have to play like that.”

The Blackhawks don’t have to look far for motivation. They could wrap this series up and perhaps get a few rest days before the Stanley Cup Final begins. But the bigger force pushing them is that 3-1 mark, knowing that two weeks ago they sat on the short end of that. And since they could turn things around and come back from that deficit, so could the Kings.

“We were on the other end of this, so we know what they’re thinking. We know this is not over,” Oduya said. “It’s a really, really good team. We said it last night, too: we don’t want to go back to L.A. It’s a tough place to win games. We need to bring our best performance to win.”