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Blackhawks banking Game 5 win puts ‘all the pressure’ on Kings

Updated: July 1, 2014 6:43AM



LOS ANGELES — It’s a mind game now. You just know the Blackhawks like their chances.

“We want to stay with that mentality that we’re putting all the pressure on them,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said Thursday before heading to Los Angeles with his teammates for Game 6 of the Western Conference final, “and it’s going to be tough for them to close it out and win that fourth game against us. We showed how resilient of a group we are [in Game 5]. We’re going to do it again [in Game 6].”

Trailing the series 3-2 but buoyed by a thrilling 5-4 double-overtime victory in Game 5, the Hawks are reaching deep into their bag of tricks for possibly the only trump cards they have left — their mental toughness and will to win.

The way this series has gone it’s the Hawks’ last and best hope to complete a mathematically unlikely comeback from a 3-1 series deficit. They’re certainly not outclassing the Kings on the ice. They’ve given up six unanswered goals in one game, lost two-goal leads in two games. The Kings are the better team in the face-off circle, on the penalty kill and the power play.

A team as desperate as the Hawks should have won Game 5 convincingly after taking a 2-0 lead in the first 3:40 in front of their home crowd. But no. By the end of the second period, the Hawks trailed 4-3. Corey Crawford, hunched over during breaks in the action, was sick, injured or just mediocre.

But when the situation looked most dire, the Hawks found a way to win in typically desperate Hawks style — a tying goal from fourth-line forward Ben Smith; some huge saves in overtime by a suddenly revived Crawford; an innocent-looking turnover in the neutral zone; a nifty pass by Brandon Saad, playing more like Marian Hossa than Hossa; and an unlikely hero in 37-year-old Michal Handzus, who scored the winning goal playing in Andrew Shaw’s spot on the hottest line in the game.

In the minds of the Hawks, the skin-of-their-teeth victory created more momentum than a 5-1 rout that would have had both teams preparing for Game 6 — mentally and physically — by the second ­intermission.

“The minds of the Hawks” is the most dangerous weapon the defending Cup champions have. The comeback victory has emboldened the Hawks to step up their “pressure is on them” mantra and perhaps planted a seed of doubt in the minds of their opponent. That’s becoming a key ingredient to winning a series that is a battle of wills. The Hawks not only have to get stronger. The Kings have to get weaker.

“Of course,” Toews said, when asked about that strategy. “They were probably thinking they were in a great situation [Wednesday] night. If you have a chance to eliminate somebody, the last thing you want is to lose that game and have to play another one.

“We have that good feeling in our room. We have to let that snowball and slide our way — and hopefully it can go the other way against them. That’s part of it. When you have that momentum, it’s pretty much all mental and you’ve got to use it as much as you can. Hopefully it goes the other way against the other team.”

The Hawks have played this game before but never as precariously as this spot. The Kings are themselves a championship-caliber team that has its history of resilience and mental toughness. They know they’re still up 3-2. And they know they’ll be at home.

Then again … there is always that seed of doubt.

“We know we can’t let it go to Game 7,” defenseman Drew Doughty said Thursday in Los Angeles. “We need to win tomorrow.”

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @markpotash



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