A week ago the Chicago Blackhawks were frustrated, disappointed and trailing 0-2 in their first-round series against the St. Louis Blues. They were coming home, though, and hoping that would mark the start of their turnaround.
Fast forward to the present time, where the Blackhawks have done just that. They’re feeling confident and strong. Now they face the biggest test on Sunday: closing out a Blues team that will throw everything at them to try to stay alive.
The Blackhawks have fared well when they’ve been in position to eliminate a postseason opponent, and they’ll look to do it again in Sunday’s Game 6. It won’t be easy. This series has been tight, it’s been fiercely contested and it’s come down to stifling one-goal decisions all but once – and that Game 3 was a one-goal game until the waning seconds. It’s been a tremendous series, no doubt, but the Blackhawks have no intention of extending it longer than necessary.
“Those first two games we thought could have went either way. To take away the home ice and have the momentum in our hands is huge,” Bryan Bickell said on Saturday. “We have a good opportunity tomorrow to finish the series, I know. We’re amped up. Our fans are going are going to be amped up. You know, it’s the biggest game of the year.”
Meanwhile, the Blues will be trying to stave off first-round elimination for the second consecutive postseason. The Los Angeles Kings were down 0-2 to the Blues last April but stormed back to win the next four games. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said his team has to focus on writing a new story, not repeating the old one.
“We have a chance to write our own legacy,” he told St. Louis media on Saturday. “Everybody is probably writing, ‘Here they go again. They're challenging the top teams, but can they get through the top teams?’ Everybody is going to write that stuff. But we have a chance to write the message that you guys have to print, so it’s in our control. It’s not in ‘what's going to get printed’ control, it’s in our control. And I want to see us embrace this. Yeah, we're knocking on the door and we're knocking hard but we've got to push through.”
Game 5 was like every other game in this series: neither had a decisive advantage, neither team thoroughly outplayed the other. Game 6 is likely to be the same. The edges have been razor thin. Blackhawks players agreed it’s one of the most intense first-round matches they’ve played.
“Definitely, from Game 1, it’s high intensity of physical play and there were some tight games. So it’s a little bit different series in the first round than it was last year,” Marian Hossa said. “It has been so tight. They were a dominating team in the regular season and that’s why the games are so tight. So we would prefer to do (finish it) in tomorrow’s game, and we know how important it is to win.”
As dramatic and intense as every game of this series has been, those traits would rise exponentially if there were a Game 7. The Blackhawks would rather not find out first-hand.
“It’s just been a really fun series so far. Obviously (it’s) two very even teams, four sudden deaths out of five and probably the same kind of thing tomorrow, I bet,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “(They’ve) been great games to play and I just hope we can pull off one of our best games of the year tomorrow so we can finish the series off so we don’t have to go to St. Louis."