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Blackhawks feeling loose with their backs to the wall; ‘All the pressure is on the Kings’ in Game 5
I thought “Who is the pressure on in Game 5, the Blackhawks or the Kings?” was a stupid question until I heard the answers.
“I think right now the pressure is all on them,” Hawks forward Patrick Kane said. “Obviously being up 3-1 position you never want to lose that in the series. We have a great opportunity tonight playing in front of our home fans to get another win and that’s how we’re looking at it right now. We don’t feel any pressure in here. If there is any pressure, it’s probably all on the Kings.”
“I feel it’s on L.A.,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Look back against Detroit, we came back and were excited about being at home, took advantage of the home crowd. I don’t want to say loose, but let’s be excited about the opportunity and let’s go. We have to win one game here.”
It’s kind of a contrary way of thinking, with the Kings leading the Western Conference final 3-1 heading into Game 5 tonight at the United Center. But in a hockey sort of way it’s not totally nonsensical. A team trailing 3-1 but with two home games remaining knows it only has to hold serve at home and steal one road game to win the series. The Hawks, who lost Games 3 and 4 in Los Angeles, have won at least one road game in 12 consecutive playoff series.
So by the Hawks’ way of thinking, the pressure is on the Kings to win Game 5, because if they lose tonight, then the pressure will really be on them in Game 6 to avoid going back to the United Center for Game 7. It sounds a little desperate, but confidence is a more crucial element of playoff hockey than in other sports. That’s probably why four teams have recovered from 3-0 deficits in the Stanley Cup playoffs (including twice in the last five years).
It doesn’t take much to plant a seed of doubt. This series turned on a dime in Game 2 — off of one big save by Jonathan Quick and one “innocent” goal by the Kings late in the period. Suddenly the Hawks were on the brink of elimination. The Kings opened the playoffs with three consecutive losses, then won six straight, then lost three straight.
The Hawks are counting on that working in their favor now.
“They’re a team that’s had a lot of momentum in the playoffs, and at times it’s gone the other way against them,” Kane said. “Huge momentum swings, especially with this team and we’ll try to gain it back tonight and keep it.”
So while the Kings are solid favorites to win this series, the Hawks are still hoping to parlay a Game 5 victory into a big series comeback.
“For sure,” Hawks forward Ben Smith said. “That’s one of the biggest things in the playoffs — getting momentum and trying to keep it and hold onto it as long as you can. So for us, getting that back on our side will hopefully be nice tonight and we’ll get a big win.”
But first things first.
“We’ve got to play desperate — that’s the biggest thing,” Kane said. “I think we’re all focusing in on our first shift and that first period and playing behind our crowd. I don’t think anyone’s really focused on the end result and hoping that it becomes 3-2 in the series. We’re all focused on this game and what’s going to happen. You get caught thinking ahead of yourself, especially against a team like this, and it’s all going to back-fire on you. We’ll take it shift-by-shift, minute-by-minute.”
Though the odds are against them, the Hawks are not lacking confidence. They think they’re the dangerous team in this situation. When you have a core that has won two Stanley Cups, they’ve at least earned the right.
“I think we’re the kind of team that in the past and just during the regular season, when we’re down, we’re playing our best hockey,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “That’s what I expect from the team tonight and from myself. I think we’re going to have our best game of the series here. Everybody’s confident here in our team that we can turn this around. We did it last year against Detroit, so I think that’s huge for our confidence that we know we can turn this thing around.”