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Blackhawks taking nothing for granted for Game 5

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks
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ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The Chicago Blackhawks got what they were seeking in Los Angeles and it wasn't extended beach time or a windblown cruise down the Sunset Strip.

What the Blackhawks got instead was a big 3-2 victory in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final on Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center, where the home team was perfect in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Now comes the hard part.

The Blackhawks, who lead the best-of-7 series 3-1, have a chance to close out the Kings in Game 5 on Saturday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS), which would put Chicago into its second Stanley Cup Final in the past four seasons.

"I think we can just go into [Game 5] with the mindset that we're down 3-1," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said Friday afternoon after arriving at O'Hare International Airport. "That's what we've said the last couple games in L.A., obviously being up 2-0 or 2-1. You know the other team's going to come at you hard, but it's up to you to motivate yourself and try and put yourself in that position where you feel like you're in a seventh game or your back's up against the wall.

"I think that's when you play with the most desperation. We did that [in Game 4] and we know we have to raise our level of play even more [Saturday], so we'll go forward with that mentality."

The good news for the Blackhawks is that, if needed, they've got three chances to win this series and go play for another Stanley Cup. The bad news is that another long trip awaits should the Kings win Saturday to force a sixth game Monday in Los Angeles.

Should that happen and L.A. then forces a seventh game back in Chicago, the momentum in the series would be tilted toward the Kings.

The Blackhawks know what it's like to come back from 3-1 down -- they did that to the Detroit Red Wings in the conference semifinals -- and they'd prefer not to travel that path if possible, even though two of the three games would be played at United Center.

Now isn't the time to start daydreaming about hoisting the Stanley Cup or peeking ahead to a potential Original Six matchup in the Cup Final against the Boston Bruins, who held a 3-0 series lead against the Pittsburgh Penguins going into Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

"There's never any use to look too far ahead, because [there's] no use worrying about that stuff," Toews said. "You take it one shift, one period at a time and you try and outplay the opposition as much as you can. Eventually you're going to get the result that you want … and that's winning hockey games."

It's the same approach they used all season.

Taking a narrow focus, the Blackhawks amassed 77 points in 48 games to win the Presidents' Trophy, then ousted the Minnesota Wild in in five games on the conference quarterfinals and rallied to beat Detroit before winning three of the first four games against the Kings.

Chicago should get a boost Saturday with the return of its best defenseman, Duncan Keith, who will be back after missing Game 4 while serving a one-game suspension from the NHL for a high-sticking incident in Game 3.

"He was pretty pumped up when we came in the locker room," Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said one day after playing Keith's left side of the top pair with Brent Seabrook. "We were all happy, obviously, but he was one of the happiest guys I'd say. He was jumping around and giving us fist bumps and stuff. It was fun to see. I can just imagine … it's always worse watching than actually playing the games. That was probably pretty tough for him."

Sheldon Brookbank, who took Keith's spot in the lineup, played 6:50 spread over 12 shifts in his absence. But the top four defensemen -- Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival -- each played more than usual to compensate. The strategy worked, especially with the new top pairing that required Hjalmarsson, who normally plays the right point, to adjust his game to the left side.

Hjalmarsson played 24:57 and finished with two assists and a plus-2 rating, and Seabrook logged 26:20 and finished with a plus-1 rating and three hits. The pair combined to block five shots: Hjalmarsson stopping two after being hobbled in Game 3 by a shot off the knee, and Seabrook getting his body in front of three.

Keith didn't meet with reporters Friday, but he had to be feeling some relief having watching his teammates pull together to make sure his suspension didn't become a turning point in the series.

"I don't know for sure, but just judging and gauging him after the game he was pretty excited," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Keith. "He was happy for his teammates and generally it was nice to see him so happy. He seemed happier than the guys who were out there playing, so it was good."

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