Patrick Sharp, being checked into the boards by Slava Voynov, knows the Kings play well at home. | Getty Images
The very idea was a cliché.
Why would a team want to go through adversity to the extent it’s teetering on the brink of elimination to realize what’s needed for success?
Yet, here were the Blackhawks, almost reciting from the same quote sheet. The adversity and lessons learned from their dramatic comeback against the Detroit Red Wings — the Game 7 overtime victory, the rally in Game 6, landing in a 3-1 series hole, the emotions, the effort — would propel them. They all said it.
So proof was needed.
Words needed to be transformed into puck possession, consistent traffic around the opposing goal, aggressive forechecking, smart plays in the neutral zone and, most importantly, goals.
On Sunday, the evidence might have appeared. The Hawks chased all-world goalie Jonathan Quick and thumped the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals at the United Center.
For a team that often speaks of Stanley Cup dreams, the Hawks finally are playing at a Stanley Cup-worthy level. They just put the defending champs into a 2-0 series hole. There was no second-game letdown like there was against the Red Wings.
“This time of year you try to carry momentum as long as you can,” Patrick Sharp said.
But this all goes back to Detroit. That’s where the momentum began. The Hawks still were talking about what that series meant to them after two games against the Kings. In some ways, the Red Wings have become this year’s version of the Nashville Predators in 2010.
“It was frustrating early on in that series against Detroit, but we learned a lot there,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “It’s best to keep learning from those things that we learned in that series and keep focused here.”
What’s impressive is how the Hawks are turning that focus into results. They found a way to beat Quick when he was on his game in the series opener, and they made sure to pummel him a day later when he wasn’t in top form.
Of course, the series can change in Los Angeles, where the Kings are unbeaten this postseason. The Kings also have been in this position before. They lost the first two games of their first-round series against the St. Louis Blues but won the next four.
But the Hawks aren’t the Blues. Scoring, for one, isn’t an issue. The Hawks rely on aspects and a style that are totally different than the defensive-minded, let’s-get-physical Blues.
There also has been little evidence the Kings can slow the Hawks. The Kings actually played better in
Game 2 when it came to limiting the Hawks’ puck possession, outshooting them 31-26. But the Hawks still had ample chances. They scored on rushes and even the power play.
“We want to make sure we’re making them turn, playing in their end, be it cleanly or indirectly,” coach Joel Quenneville said.
“We’re trying to make them worry about us in all areas of the rink,” Jonathan Toews said.
Some Hawks said that being on the brink of elimination against the Red Wings seemed like a long time ago. But Toews didn’t.
“It feels like it was last week,” Toews said.
Perhaps it’s best to think that way.
“We’re happy to win the first two games at home,” Sharp said. “We know how well the Kings play in their building. The series is just getting started really.”