CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks have a mountain of experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but might need to borrow something from the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final at United Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
The Ducks said they were mad heading into overtime of Game 5 at Honda Center on Monday and claimed that's what helped them most in a 5-4 victory that gave them a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series. For all the experience and postseason success the Blackhawks have, the feeling they had leaving the ice after that game might be the best approach to Game 6.
"There's a lot of history here that we've collected over seven years, a lot of positive things," coach Joel Quenneville said Tuesday after the Blackhawks returned to Chicago. "I think we all came out of last night's game with an anger and a real sour taste in our mouth. Sometimes that can be better than a history lesson."
If it helps the Blackhawks avoid another bad first period like they had in Game 5, it will be a good starting point. Despite coming back after trailing 3-0 and 4-2 to force overtime, it’s hard to look back on the outcome and not think about the three goals the Blackhawks allowed in the first. It was the seventh time in 15 postseason games that Chicago has allowed at least three goals in a period, and was the Blackhawks' worst first period since Game 1 of the first-round series against the Nashville Predators.
Chicago also fell behind 3-0 in the first period of that game, scored three goals in the second and forced overtime. Duncan Keith's goal in the second overtime won the game, but Ducks forwards Ryan Kesler and Matt Beleskey didn’t allow Game 5 of this series to go longer than 45 seconds past regulation. Beleskey scored to cap a 2-on-1 rush created by Bryan Bickell’s turnover.
Bickell tried sending the puck into the zone from the neutral zone for a line change, but the puck was blocked at the Ducks blue line and sent the other direction for the 2-on-1 that ended the game.
Asked a day later what Bickell could’ve done better, Quenneville paused before answering bluntly: "Get it past him."
Bickell shouldered a lot of blame, but the poor first period stung just as much. If the Ducks win the series, that game will be looked upon as pivotal to the Blackhawks’ elimination. They controlled play for much of the final 40 minutes but spent most of that time trying to come back.
"It’s tough to say, but we obviously have to be better in the big moments of games like that," Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "It’s always important to keep the momentum on your team, and especially after scoring a goal or if the other team scores a goal, you have to have big shifts right after. I think that’s something we can improve on going forward."
Saying it and then doing it isn't always easy, but the one thing the Blackhawks have on their side is how they play when threatened. Since late December, they’ve been a team that’s needed a motivational kick-start from time to time, and nothing provides a jolt like the possibility of the offseason starting too soon.
"We’ve got to play desperate right off the bat [in Game 6]," Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad said. "Now we’re in a situation where it’s do-or-die, and that’s the team that you’re going to see. For some reason, we started slow [in Game 5] and it was a big game for us. We need to steal one on the road, [and] we didn’t do it [Monday] night. We’ve got to do it in the future."
They’ve got to create that possibility first.
If history is any indicator, the odds are in the Blackhawks’ favor to force a Game 7 at Honda Center on Saturday. Since 2008-09, they’re 9-4 in elimination games and 3-1 in Game 6s when facing elimination.
They forced Game 7 against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 (first round), the Detroit Red Wings in 2013 (second round) and the Los Angeles Kings in 2014 (conference final). The only season-ending loss in a Game 6 during that span was against the Phoenix Coyotes in 2012 in a series that had five games end in overtime.
"I think we've been behind the eight ball a few times," Quenneville said. "I think back to being down 3-1 in Detroit. We've been in some tough spots before and put ourselves back [in it]. In this series, [we’re] been behind for the third time, putting ourselves in the spot of trying to have to win one game. That's our mindset."