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Blackhawks back in Game 7 with Cup Final at stake

by Corey Masisak / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- The marketing slogan for the Chicago Blackhawks for the past several seasons has been "One Goal."

The Blackhawks were one goal short of the reaching the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. They want to avoid that feeling again in 2015.

"I was on the left side. [Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec] Martinez shot it from the other side and it got deflected and went in," Sharp said of the Kings' Western Conference Final-clinching overtime goal in Game 7 last season at United Center. "You could just feel the air kind of go out of the building. You feel your heart drop a little bit, being that close, and we had a couple leads in that game as well. Battling back from being down in that series to the Kings, it was a tough way to go out on home ice. You kind of learn from it and use it as hunger to get back to the same situation."

Chicago is back in Game 7 of a Western Conference Final after defeating the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 on Wednesday. When the Blackhawks arrive at Honda Center for this series-deciding contest Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports), they will be hoping to inflict the same pain the Kings delivered to them a year ago.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville called the loss to Los Angeles probably the toughest of "our lives." Chicago has reached this stage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs five times in the past seven seasons. The first time the Blackhawks lost, it was to the Detroit Red Wings in 2009 and it was a young team that benefitted from the experience.

This is a group built to win championships, and ending up five wins shy of a Stanley Cup for a second straight season would be tough to handle.

"We're lucky to be back in the situation as we were last year," Sharp said. "The opportunity we have here, I know it seems like we've been in the conference finals a few times in the last couple years, but these opportunities don't come along too often. Knowing how close were last year to going to the Finals and advancing, and to come up one goal short, that feeling weighs on our minds. We want to make sure we capture the opportunity this time."

Quenneville did not shy away from the comparisons to last season. The Blackhawks needed to win Games 5 and 6 to avoid elimination against the Kings, and were down 3-2 to the Ducks before the 5-2 win Wednesday.

"We talked about it last night," Quenneville said Thursday. "We were at home, we had a couple of two-goal leads, we were deeper in the game then obviously you get overtime in a Game 7 anything can happen. We've seen some overtime games in our series here and there was some unpredictability there, but Game 7 as a player is the type of game you want to be a part of. We were disappointed that we exited that way, so it should get us excited."

The Ducks can sympathize. They also lost a Game 7 at home to the Kings last season. Los Angeles routed the Ducks 6-2 at Honda Center after avoiding elimination in Game 6 at Staples Center.

Anaheim has its own history it does not want to repeat. If the Ducks do not defeat the Blackhawks, it will be three postseasons in a row that end with a Game 7 loss at Honda Center after taking a 3-2 series lead.

Chicago has played more postseason hockey than any team in the past seven seasons, so there aren't many situations the core group of players don't have experience with. The Blackhawks have played in three Game 7s, losing to the Vancouver Canucks in the first round in 2011 and the Kings in 2014.

They defeated the Red Wings in overtime in 2013 to advance to the conference finals before eventually winning the Stanley Cup for a second time in four seasons.

"It is very similar to playing overtime, to be honest, right from the drop of the puck in the first period," Sharp said. "Every shift is important like it always is, but it is magnified that much more in a Game 7. Our group has played plenty of overtimes and a handful of Game 7s to draw experience from. I like the guys in our locker room. We get excited for opportunities like that. We don't shy away. We want the puck and we want to score the goals."

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