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Unwavering confidence hallmark of Blackhawks

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Dale Weise has been a member of the Chicago Blackhawks for 58 days. He wasn't part of their Stanley Cup teams in 2010, 2013 and 2015. But he feels it.

He felt it even before the Blackhawks defeated the St. Louis Blues 6-3 on Saturday, turning a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead during a dominant second period, transforming the silent United Center back into the "Madhouse on Madison," setting up Game 7 in the Western Conference First Round on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, CSN-CH).

"I've said it from the time that I got here: This is a special group," said Weise, whom the Blackhawks acquired Feb. 26 in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens. "It's just an unwavering confidence. No matter what the score is, like, we come in there …"

Weise laughed, sounding almost exasperated.

"We get down, and it just doesn't seem to matter to this team," he said. "We know if we continue to defend well, we've got enough offense in here that we're going to get our chances. We're going to score goals."

Regardless of whether the Blackhawks win Game 7, this series reflects why they've been the class of the NHL during the past seven seasons. The core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Co. leads on the ice and off. General manager Stan Bowman deals with salary-cap conundrums and retools the supporting cast, finding players who fit the system and follow the example. Coach Joel Quenneville shuffles and prods and growls.

The Blackhawks faced a 3-1 series deficit against the Blues, but they had faced many series deficits over the years and come back. They had come back from a 3-1 series deficit and won as recently as 2013, when they did it in the second round against the Detroit Red Wings. They came back in Game 5 on Thursday and won 4-3 in double overtime thanks to an amazing individual effort by Kane.

They faced a 3-1 deficit after the first period of Game 6, but they had broken down uncharacteristically on the Blues' goals. They felt good about their game. They just had to tighten up.

"A lot of guys have been around long enough to understand there's lots of time left," said Blackhawks forward Andrew Ladd, who was part of the 2010 Cup team, left as part of a salary-cap purge, returned Feb. 25 via a trade with the Winnipeg Jets and scored the first goal Saturday. "There was confidence in the room that we could [come back]. We just had to get one and go from there."

They got one when forward Artem Anisimov, acquired in an offseason trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets, scored a power-play goal. They got another when defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014, joined the rush and scored on a pass from Toews, tying the game 3-3 at 12:21 of the second period.

The fans had been quiet; now they stood and roared, then stood and roared some more through an entire TV timeout, as if the national anthem were being replayed.

"They didn't stop the entire time," forward Andrew Desjardins said. "They even kept on going after the puck dropped."

Weise, a healthy scratch three times in this series, gave the Blackhawks a 4-3 lead later in the period, converting a pass from rookie Artemi Panarin, an undrafted free agent signed a year ago who scored 30 goals this season and might win the Calder Trophy.

The Blackhawks outshot the Blues in the second 19-4 before a late penalty kill.

"The first period, it was discouraging we gave up those goals as quick and as easy as we did," Toews said. "We weren't quite making them earn what they got offensively. The second, I think we just … I think all four lines responded. We worked for our chances. When someone created something or we had a good shift, the next line went out there and kept that momentum. So it was a lot of fun to play in that turnaround period, and we didn't let off in the third period as well."

Read some of those names again: Ladd. Anisimov. Van Riemsdyk. Weise. Panarin. We didn't even mention Richard Panik, whom the Blackhawks acquired in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 3 and scratched in Game 1. He had six hits, four shots, two blocks and an assist.

This Blackhawks team isn't supposed to be as deep or as good as the ones that won the Cup. Maybe it isn't. But it was deep and good enough in Game 6.

"It's testament again to our experience and to the guys who haven't been here too long to really buy in and play the right way when we've been in this do-or-die position the last couple games, and you see what can happen when we all buy in, we all play the right way," Toews said. "So again, it was fun tonight."

Well, it was fun unless you were the Blues.

This is turning into another nightmare for St. Louis. In 2013, the Blues took a 2-0 lead in the first round and lost in six to the Los Angeles Kings. In 2014, they took a 2-0 lead in the first round and lost in six against the Blackhawks. Last season, they were tied 2-2 in the first round and lost back-to-back games to the Minnesota Wild.

Now they have watched a 3-1 lead evaporate against the defending champions, who have been here and done this. Under Quenneville, the Blackhawks are 45-15 in Games 4-7 of a series and 13-4 when facing elimination. They are 15-1 in Game 6 situations, including 7-1 at home. Since 2009-10, they have either won the Cup or been eliminated in overtime of Game 7 every season but one.

"There's a reason they've won a lot of hockey games and championships," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They raised their level a little bit in the second period. They were desperate; we didn't match it."

The Blues have one more chance.

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