Chicago trails the rival Detroit Red Wings 3-1 in a best-of-7 Western Conference Semifinal the underdog Red Wings have seized control of with three straight wins, but the Blackhawks aren't ready to call it a season.
They're targeting a win in Game 5 Saturday at United Center (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) to force a sixth game in Detroit on Monday, and trying not to dwell on the fact an incredible season that saw them win the Presidents' Trophy is in jeopardy for the first time.
"You can't think of that," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said Friday after an optional practice. "You've got to think about winning. That's the only thing on our minds. Everything's got to be positive. You can't be thinking, 'What if?' If you have anything like that cross your mind, Detroit's too good of a team. We're not thinking about that at all."
In a rare show of frustration, Toews' temper boiled over in a 2-0 loss Thursday in Game 4 at Joe Louis Arena -- particularly in the second period, when he made three straight trips to the penalty box and watched Detroit score the eventual game-winning goal with one second left on the first infraction.
A day later, Toews greeted a crowd of reporters surrounding his locker stall with a question then a statement about his team's mindset.
"What's there to be down about?" Toews said. "Obviously we're not where we want to be in the series, but dwelling on that and feeling sorry for ourselves isn't going to do anything. We've got a positive group of guys and had a great season all year for that reason. We're going to stick to what helps us win hockey games, so we're focused on getting ready for [Game 5] and nothing more than that."
Chicago's optional practice Friday was attended by 12 players on the ice plus the assistant coaches. Notable names participating included Toews, rookie Brandon Saad and Brent Seabrook -- all of whom have struggled to produce in this series.
There weren't enough players to really work on many facets of the game, such as a power play that's 1-for-12 in the series and 3-for-25 in the playoffs, but they did get in some shooting practice against backup goalie Ray Emery. That might be even more important than doing full team drills.
The Blackhawks probably heard the all-too-familiar clank of puck off metal in their sleep Thursday night and hope their aim improves in Game 5. They didn't play poorly in either of the past two games, but hit too many posts and crossbars and couldn't solve Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, who has been outstanding since dropping Game 1 by a 4-1 score.
It doesn't look good for the Blackhawks going into Game 5, but they do have a remarkable comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 to build hope. Chicago lost that series in overtime of Game 7 in Vancouver, but the Blackhawks said they're confident they can push another sticky situation to the brink.
"Everybody's counting us out now except us in here," Seabrook said. "The only thing you can really do is look back at past experiences and go from there. We look back at the Vancouver series and being down 3-0, we gave ourselves a chance and had a hard-fought game in Game 7 and just missed out by one goal."
"You can't think of that. You've got to think about winning. That's the only thing on our minds. Everything's got to be positive. You can't be thinking, 'What if?' If you have anything like that cross your mind, Detroit's too good of a team. We're not thinking about that at all."
-- Jonathan Toews, when asked if the Hawks' season is in jeopardy
Toews is banking on that experience too.
"It just goes to show that things like that are possible," he said. "We were very, very close to winning that series. I'm sure Detroit knows and we know that this series is long from being over and that [Game 5] is going to be the toughest game for both teams. We can keep that in our hip pocket, I guess."
The trick is getting past Detroit's puck-hounding efforts in all three zones, then beating Howard. If the Blackhawks can do it and win a game, some of the pressure shifts back to the Red Wings to end the series in Game 6 at home.
"We talk about momentum and how important it is come playoff time … [they've] obviously got it right now, but one game could turn everything around," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "That's what we're looking for. The big picture looks bleak, but I think at the same time we've got two home games here [if it goes 7], and you've got [to take] one at a time. Getting off to a big start [in Game 5] is what we're looking for and simplifying, going shift by shift."