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Resilient Blackhawks are one win from another Cup

by Dan Rosen / Chicago Blackhawks

TAMPA -- The Stanley Cup has long been considered the hardest trophy in all of sports to win. The Chicago Blackhawks are raising the bar on its degree of difficulty.

The fact that the Blackhawks have survived through every piece of adversity they've faced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs and are in position to win their third Stanley Cup championship in six seasons with a victory in Game 6 of the Final on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports) is a testament not only to their experience, but also to their conditioning, coaching and depth.

Consider what the Blackhawks have done to date in the playoffs. Take in its totality and try not to be impressed, and quite frankly amazed, that their 2-1 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Saturday has them on the brink of what may very well be looked at as a modern-day NHL dynasty.

"Whether we're one win away or 15 wins away, you come in with that belief and you know what your team is capable of," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "If anything, you don't want to underachieve. You want to get the most out of each other and find a way to come together as a group and give yourself a chance to be here.

"It's a great group, and we understand how unique this group is and how unique this chance is."

Unique is a perfect word to describe the Blackhawks, because there truly is no team like them in the NHL right now. They've been proving it throughout this postseason.

Let's start from the beginning, from their Western Conference First Round series against the Nashville Predators. Can you remember that far back? Corey Crawford definitely can. He was benched in favor of Scott Darling after allowing nine goals on 47 shots in the first two games.

At the time it seemed like the Blackhawks' chances of even getting out of the first round were slim, at best. The Predators were fast, maybe even faster than the Blackhawks, and then there was the goaltending issue.

Seriously, who was Darling? He wasn't even Chicago's No. 2 for the entire regular season. But he's a big reason why Chicago is one win away from the Stanley Cup. Look at his 42 saves in relief in Game 1 against Nashville and his 50 saves in Game 4. Both were overtime wins.

Crawford is a bigger reason the Blackhawks are one win away from another Cup.

He came in for Darling in Game 6 against the Predators and saved all 13 shots he faced in a come-from-behind 4-3 win, starting him on a run during which he has posted a .930 save percentage in 17 consecutive appearances, including 16 starts. He has allowed two goals on 57 shots in the past two games against Tampa Bay and made 31 saves in Game 5.

"He's been unbelievably strong in the net," Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa said.

In turn, the Blackhawks' top four defensemen have had to be unbelievably resilient since Michal Rozsival was injured in Game 4 of the second round against the Minnesota Wild.

Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Johnny Oduya have barely gotten any help from a bottom pair that has included Kimmo Timonen, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Kyle Cumiskey and David Rundblad.

Keith played more than 29 minutes in Game 5. It was the fourth time in five games in the Cup Final that he has played at least 29 minutes; he missed by eight seconds in Game 2. Niklas Hjalmarsson played 28:19 in Game 5, a playoff high for him in a game that finished in regulation.

Give assistant coach Mike Kitchen credit for finding a defensive rotation to make sure that one of Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and Oduya is on the ice basically at all times. Give those defensemen credit for handling those minutes.

Just when it appears they might be getting tired, they play better, as they did in Game 5.

"No one is making any excuses now as far as bumps and bruises and fatigue," Toews said. "This is the best time to play hockey. We're definitely thankful to be here now, still pushing the pace and digging as deep as we can."

They definitely had to in the Western Conference Final, which was one of the most punishing series' the Blackhawks have played since they first started making the playoffs regularly in 2009.

The Anaheim Ducks had Chicago on the ropes going into Game 6 at United Center. It appeared the Blackhawks were tired. They weren't. They played arguably their best game of the playoffs to that point and won 5-2, then came out in Game 7, jumped out to a 4-0 lead and won 5-3.

"We always said the experience that we have in the tough moments, where things don't look so good for us, I think that's when we realize hey, just keep pushing, you never know what can happen," Toews said. "Here we are, one win away."

That they are this close is also a testament to their scoring depth, because the Blackhawks are one win away from winning the Cup without a goal from Hossa or Patrick Kane in the Final. Toews and Brad Richards have one goal apiece. Patrick Sharp's goal Saturday was his first since Game 2 against the Wild on Saturday, a span of 14 games.

But Teuvo Teravainen, Brandon Saad and Antoine Vermette each have two goals against the Lightning. Vermette has two of Chicago's three game-winners.

Vermette has four goals in the playoffs; the past three have been game-winners. The Blackhawks were right to give up a first-round draft pick and defenseman Klas Dahlbeck to acquire him from the Arizona Coyotes in a trade on Feb. 28.

"I read it somewhere that their coach in [Arizona] said in big games, he comes up big," Hjalmarsson said, "and it's definitely what he's been doing for us here."

Of course he is. He's a Blackhawk now. All they do is score big goals, win big games. This time they're doing it while setting the bar for degree of difficulty in the process.

One win away, with all they've gone through. Amazing.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

Author: Dan Rosen | Senior Writer

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