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Blackhawks have been Game 6 closers in Toews-Kane era

SERIES

SCHEDULE
Best of seven

GAME 1

Wild 2
at Hawks 5

GAME 2

Wild 1
at Hawks 4

GAME 3

Hawks 0

at Wild 4

GAME 4

Hawks 2

at Wild 4

GAME 5

Wild 1
at Hawks 2

GAME 6

8 p.m. Tuesday
at Wild, CNBC

GAME 7 if necessary

7 p.m. Thursday
at Hawks, NBCSN

WATCH: Bryan Bickell on filling Andrew Shaw's role in front of net
WATCH: Oduya on Blackhawks' impressive record in series clinchers
WATCH: Quenneville on possibly putting Sharp, Toews, Hossa together
WATCH: Bryan Bickell on figuring out Wild
Article Extras
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Updated: May 13, 2014 7:23AM



They make it sound so simple.

“Play a little bit harder,” Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya said when asked what it’s going to take for the Hawks to beat the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. “They play a really fast game and we just have to bring a little bit more effort, I think.”

If it were that easy, this series would be over. Instead, the Hawks are in a familiar postseason position, struggling to “flip the switch” — or even find the switch — that ignites their “A” game and propels them to the next round.

For all their success in the Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane/Duncan Keith/Patrick Sharp era, the Blackhawks don’t do much the easy way. For a team that has won two Stanley Cups in the previous four seasons, they have very few wire-to-wire blowouts. In 16 of their last 17 playoff victories — including the last 13 in a row — the Hawks have been leading by a goal or less in the third period. Twelve times in that span they’ve been tied or trailing.

It’s almost a hallmark of their success. They can’t stand prosperity. And while they almost always respond, they usually respond best when the situation is the most dire. The Hawks played their best period of the Wild series in Game 5 immediately after playing their worst. They were up 2-0 in this series, then tied 2-2, and trailing 1-0 in Game 5. If the Hawks have a cushion, they use it.

Except when it comes to Game 6. Regardless of how a series has transpired, the Blackhawks have a knack for putting the hammer down at the end. Whenever the Blackhawks have had a Game 7 in their pocket in the Kane/Toews era, they never need it. They are 7-0 in Game 6 clinchers — including 5-0 on the road — heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Wild at Xcel Energy Arena.

That trend will definitely be on the line, considering the Hawks’ unimpressive performances in 4-0 and 4-2 losses in Games 3 and 4. Even after turning it on and then holding on for a 2-1 victory in Game 5, the Hawks hardly looked primed to parlay that into a clinching victory in Game 6.

But then again, they’re the Blackhawks, defending Stanley Cup champions — the team that always gives you a chance and then takes it away. That’s what they do. And Joel Quenneville seems to be counting on it in this one.

“I commend the guys on their focus and their preparation,” Quenneville said. “They welcome the challenge. The bigger the setting, the bigger the stage, they seem to rise to that challenge.

“With certain teams, there is some experience in games like that that can help you — how you go into these big games. For the players, their game day and their focus going in is important. Being through what we’ve been through through the years has helped — particularly our leaders help send that message to everybody.”

Therein lies the key to that special nuance of the Hawks’ success. In Toews and Kane, the Hawks have two players who somehow find a way to not only rise to this occasion, but light the way for their teammates. In the seven Game 6 clinchers, Kane has seven goals, 12 points and is a plus-6; Toews has five goals, 11 points and is a plus-5.

In the playoff game that arguably got the whole thing started — Game 6 against the Canucks at the United Center in 2009 — the Hawks avoided a Game 7 in Vancouver when Kane had a hat trick and Toews scored twice, including the game-winner, in a 7-5 victory.

They’ve been at it ever since — Kane with the Cup-winning goal against the Flyers in 2010. And Toews with the game-winner against the Predators in 2010; the crucial assist on Bryan Bickell’s tying goal against the Bruins in last year’s Final; and the tie-breaker against the Blues in the opening round.

That’s a great foundation for such a monumental game. But history or not, the Hawks will be in tough against a Wild team that knows it can win this series — and will be fighting for survival.

“You don’t want to have a hockey player backed into a corner — that’s when they’re at their best,” Oduya said. “That said, I think we have the experience and the knowledge of that — that we need to really be at our best to win the game.”

As much as the Hawks have been able to dig deep down to win a series, it always seems like it’s going to catch up to them eventually. Game 5 was a red flag in the first period — the more the Hawks tried to find their game the further away they got from it. Even by their standards, it was unusually substandard.

And even in victory, it didn’t seem like the Hawks had solved the Wild riddle. It sure didn’t provide confidence they could avoid a Game 7.

But with Toews and Kane, Sharp and Hossa, Keith and Seabrook, things can always change in a hurry. Sometimes all it takes is 17 seconds. Doubt them at your own risk.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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