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Blackhawks say series vs. Wings was wake-up call

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks
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It's a question that's worth asking as the Chicago Blackhawks prepare for a tough, physical Western Conference Final against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.

Did the Detroit Red Wings wake up the Presidents' Trophy winners in their Western semifinal series -- or did they wear out the Blackhawks by forcing Chicago to win three straight games to advance, including Game 7 in overtime?

"I don't know," Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya said Friday, pausing to think about his answer following practice. "I would say 'woke us up.' At some point in that series we had to start playing more desperate to win games. That's kind of what happened. They forced us to do that."

After being pushed to the brink of elimination with a 2-0 loss in Game 4 at Joe Louis Arena, the Blackhawks got off the mat and responded. They found a way to outlast the Red Wings and breathe life back into their Stanley Cup dreams.

Next up is an even taller order.

The physically imposing, defense-oriented Kings will be in the visitors locker room when the Blackhawks next take the ice Saturday at United Center for Game 1 of the series that will determine one of the Stanley Cup Final participants (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

It will also be the first of rare back-to-back Stanley Cup Playoff contests this weekend at the Madhouse on Madison, which could be even more taxing for Chicago. Los Angeles also needed seven games to eliminate the San Jose Sharks in the semifinals, but didn't have to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the series -- and got an extra day of rest.

The Blackhawks said Friday they feel fine physically, but they also know how important it will be to hold serve in these first two games to maintain the home-ice advantage they earned by running away with the regular-season championship.

"Coming into a series like this, you don't want to put yourself down like we did in the last [series], against any team, especially at this point," Oduya said. "That's not something you want to do. You want to come out flying and bring that intensity we finished the last series with."

Maintaining that drive is the biggest challenge, especially after what the Blackhawks just experienced. Many counted them out after the Red Wings got to the edge of advancing with three games to play. But that turned out to be a vast underestimation of how deep the talent runs on this Chicago roster -- up front, on the back end and in goal.

If the Blackhawks are going to beat the Kings in this series, they'll have to do it by again leaning on their depth. That's the way Chicago eventually did it against Detroit, overcoming a 3-1 series deficit to win for the first time in franchise history.

"It was a tough series any way you look at it," said forward Patrick Sharp, who leads Chicago with seven goals in the playoffs. "They made it tough to play out there. We had to grind to get to the net. They did a good job of playing as a team, interfering, clutching, grabbing and making it a hard playoff series. So I don't know if 'wake up' is the right word, but we definitely needed to play our best to beat them."

The Blackhawks also needed to prove they had the gumption to withstand such adversity. After falling behind 3-1 and staring a long offseason straight in the face, there were questions about whether a team that cruised through its regular season and first playoff series had what it took to bounce back.

After proving they did, the Blackhawks are now banking on that grit carrying them into this series against the Kings.

"We're fine," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "We're ready to take on another challenge. We know it's going to be just as physical, probably even more against L.A. Obviously it was a tough seven games against Detroit, but more than anything, we're fueled by the emotion and excitement of the Game 7 win. We're excited to get a good start [Saturday]."

They're also expecting more of the same from the Kings when trying to control the Blackhawks' impressive rush game, especially through the neutral zone.

"It's what we expect from every team," Toews said. "They're going to try to slow us down. We're a fast-paced team. They'll try to get in our way, interfere with us. Like I said earlier on in the previous series, [it's] something we can learn from and do, as well, within the rules of the game ... to get in guys' ways, make things a little more frustrating and tiring for the other team."

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