The Blackhawks lived to see another day in their first game facing elimination on Wednesday night, and they inched closer to tying the series with the Los Angeles Kings. They can accomplish that, and force a Game Seven on Sunday, with a win tonight. It will be a tall task, however, as the Blackhawks will have to earn a win in one of the toughest arenas in the league: the Staples Center.
The Blackhawks have been here before, and earned that all-important win, just one year ago against the Detroit Red Wings. Things looked bleak in that game, with the Blackhawks trailing in the third period, but a big goal by Michael Handzus (coincidence?) brought them back to even. Michael Frolik sealed it with a penalty shot, in what ended up as a 4-2 Blackhawks victory. In that series, the afternoon of Game Six, I published “On The Road Again: Why There Needs To Be A Different Game At The Joe“. It worked then, and we figure it will work now.
The Blackhawks may have only one loss at the United Center in these playoffs, but the road has been far less successful for the club. A bumbling 2-6 record sits before them, with one win in each of their previous series against the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues. Last year in the Western Conference Final, the Blackhawks not only earned a win in the Staples Center, but they did so without Duncan Keith. They will have to reclaim some of that magic on Friday night, if they want to extend their season by one more game.
On the road, and especially in a raucous barn such as the Staples Center, the first goal is all-important. Against the Los Angeles Kings, however, putting the puck in the net first isn’t the only thing they have to worry about. The Blackhawks blew a 2-0 lead in Game Two of this series, and also scored the first goal of Game Three. It seems that even a 3-0 lead won’t be enough, as the Kings briefly led Game Five by a 4-3 margin after the Blackhawks scored the first three goals of the game. Anything that puts the crowd back in their seats, and shuts up that annoying Eric Cartman rendition, is a good thing for anyone wearing Red and White.
It doesn’t have to be pretty. It can be 9-1, or 1-0 in overtime, but the Blackhawks need to be the team on top at the final horn. Their season depends on it. Adversity is in the blood of each and every Blackhawk player, and the 21 past Stanley Cup Champions have the experience to get the job done.
The bigger picture fades away to a much more specific task tonight: 60 minutes. Game Seven will be worried about when Game Six is won, and until then, the focus is the best game of hockey the Blackhawks have played this season. Players like Patrick Sharp need to find a way to burst their bubble, Andrew Shaw needs to keep up his physical play, and Brandon Saad needs to have another dynamite game. All 21 players will need to be firing on all cylinders tonight, and Joel Quenneville will have to be as sharp as ever behind the bench, without the luxury of last change against a veteran coach in Darryl Sutter.
Whatever superstitions you started on Saturday better be carried out tonight. Here’s to a Game Seven preview instead of a season-end review on the site tomorrow morning.
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