CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks have two options in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS). They can either win and book their second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in four seasons, or they can lose and board their second flight to Southern California in a week.
"It's not a fun travel day to do all that," Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane said. "So, if anything, that should be motivation not to go through that again."
If Chicago is going to avoid the trip to L.A. and force the Boston Bruins to come to the Windy City early next week to open the Stanley Cup Final, the Blackhawks are going to need to do the following three things:
1. Get the puck to Patrick
Kane was far more active and engaged in Game 4 than he had been at any point over the first three games of the series. He wound up scoring his first goal in eight games and had seven shots on goal, equaling the amount he had in Games 1 through 3.
The difference was Kane's insistence on getting the puck, demanding it in a way that makes him dangerous. In Games 1-3, Kane was too passive and patient and was barely a threat.
"I thought I had a good mindset going in to try to get the puck as much as I could," Kane said. "That's what the coaches and even my teammates kind of stressed that I need to try to do. It's something that has always been part of my game."
It was a move by Chicago coach Joel Quenneville that worked out when Kane scored the game-tying goal late in the second period after a deflection by Bickell on their second shift together. Marian Hossa, who was moved into Kane's spot on a line with Michal Handzus and Patrick Sharp, scored the game-winner 70 seconds into the third period.
"Sometimes it's kind of a coincidence how those things happen," Kane said. "Sometimes you switch it up and you play with different players and for whatever reason things start to open up. It seemed like a good switch because our line scored and Hossa had the third one. It was a big momentum shift scoring one late in the second and one early in the third."
2. Play with a killer instinct
Chicago knows better than any team how Los Angeles is feeling down 3-1 in the series. The Blackhawks were in that same position after four games against the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Semifinals. Chicago played arguably its best game of the series against Detroit in Game 5 and has been rolling ever since with six wins in the past seven games.
"When you're down 3-1, there is nothing to think about," Blackhawks center Dave Bolland said. "I think it's a lot easier being down 3-1, because when you're down [you can't think], 'Oh we have to do this and we have to do that.' You have to go out there and play hard, and if you win, you win; if you, lose you lose. They won the Stanley Cup last year so they know what it takes to win."
To play with a killer instinct, the Blackhawks have to establish their kind of game early in the first period. If they skate and play with speed, particularly in their transition game, the Kings will be on their heels and won't be able to establish any type of sustained offense. It will be more of a chip-and-change game for the Kings instead of chip and chase, which is their bread and butter.
Each game in this series has been won by the team that was better in the neutral zone. So it's easy to tell if the Blackhawks are winning the neutral zone. When they do, they play with the puck in the offensive zone.
3. Strong out of the starting gate
This one seems obvious because, really, what team doesn't want to have a good start? They all do. They don't talk about having a bad start and coming together after encountering that kind of adversity. That's just pure silliness.
However, the start for the Blackhawks on Saturday could be indicative of how the rest of the game goes. It also ties into the other two keys.
If the Blackhawks start fast, meaning they play with the pace and tempo they like, especially through the neutral zone, it could lead to early success. That keeps the home crowd involved and pumped up while keeping the Kings away from the style they want to play.
The Blackhawks are 8-2 when scoring first in the playoffs. They were 26-2-1 when scoring first in the regular season.
If the Blackhawks start fast, it could mean Kane gets engaged quickly. He likely would be a bigger factor in the contest if Chicago enjoys a fast start.
The last thing the Blackhawks want to do is give the Kings hope. They know that's what the Red Wings did for them in Game 5 of the conference semifinals. It's all they needed to feel like they could win the series, which they did.
"We have to try to get a lead early and have a good first period to step on them and hopefully not give them any life or any chance of gaining the momentum and thinking they're back in the series," Kane said. "It's a huge game, and I think we're treating it with a Game 7 mentality and you have to win. That's the way you've got to go about these games."