The Blackhawks looked like they had a mix of happiness and relief following their Game 5 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.
It was happiness that they’ll keep this series going, relief that they pulled one out just when it looked like the Kings were going to break their hearts again. Those feelings, however, aren’t savored too much. Because come Friday night, the Blackhawks will have to try and do it again.
The Blackhawks prevented their own postseason execution on Wednesday, coming back to beat the Kings, 5-4, in double overtime to keep this Western Conference Final series going. The work, however, isn’t anywhere close to being done, and the Blackhawks know that. They head back to the Staples Center, where, in Games 3 and 4, they did a little bit of good but not nearly enough to outweigh the bad.
“I think we played a handful of good periods. When we didn't play so well, it was almost disastrous,” Jonathan Toews said. “I think we've got to avoid that and understand there are going to be moments where they're going to come at us hard. We might get calls against us, or they might score. We need to swallow that pill and move on.
“I think some of the guys have said already, we need to keep an even keel. We haven't necessarily done that on the road against this team yet,” Toews continued. “We know we're capable of doing it. We'll just think about that, play a tight game, a patient game, like we did last night.”
As good as the Blackhawks played through the third period and overtime, there are still kinks they need to work out. They still gave up a lot of goals. The Kings, never lacking in firepower, scored three unanswered goals to erase the Hawks’ two-goal advantage and take a 4-3 edge entering the third. They still need to clean up little mistakes. They still need Corey Crawford to put together a strong, full game, not just a partial one.
So, how do they do that?
“Same approach as last night,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I thought we had a real good start to the game. We were kind of loose, had nothing to basically lose. Same approach tomorrow night; I think that's where we're at. We need to win one in their building. It’s comparable to the way the first two series went, so let's go.”
Yes, the Blackhawks won big road games in St. Louis and Minnesota in the previous two rounds; the victory in St. Louis gave the Blackhawks a 3-2 edge in the series, the one in Minnesota gave them the series. Again, this is different. The situation is different. The Kings are different. They’ve got the chance to win this series in front of their home fans and head to their second Stanley Cup Final in the past three seasons. They’ll be ticked off they didn’t close the deal in Game 5, and that will probably show early in Game 6.
The Blackhawks know the stakes: Either rinse and repeat the good parts of Game 5, or call it a postseason. They’re feeling confident entering this one, feeling momentum is on their side. They’ll need a herculean effort, however, to bring this series back to Chicago.
“We want to stay with that mentality that we’re putting all the pressure on them and it’s going to be tough for them to close it out and win that fourth game against us,” Toews said. “We showed what a resilient group we are last night, and we’re going to do it again tomorrow.”