CHICAGO — The Chicago Blackhawks won Game 1, 2-1, before losing the next two and needing to win Game 4 to avoid a 3-1 series deficit in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.
This sounds like a familiar script because it is. The Blackhawks trail the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in the series, similar to when Chicago was down 2-1 to the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Cup Final.
After the Blackhawks lost Game 3 to the Bruins two years ago, they did not lose again. Their chance to author a sequel begins Wednesday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
"It's not necessarily a situation you want to be in," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. "The fact this group of players and this organization has been down that road a few times, has been able to persevere has been good for us. We're going to try to draw from that experience and play better games going forward."
Each of the first three games of the 2015 Final has been tied in the third period. In 2013, the Blackhawks lost Game 2 in overtime 2-1 before being shut out 2-0 in Game 3.
The Bruins were doing a solid job of limiting great scoring chances for the high-powered Blackhawks offense. They had a towering No. 1 defenseman in Zdeno Chara and a shutdown center in Patrice Bergeron, who also had two goals in the first three games of the series.
Chicago got better as that series progressed, but also had some help as Boston injuries, particularly for Bergeron, mounted. Chara also appeared to be playing through an injury, though he did not confirm that at the end of the series.
It has been one of the defining characteristics for this group of Blackhawks, their ability to improve as a series matriculates. Chicago is 40-14 after Game 3 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with coach Joel Quenneville, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and company.
"I think maybe its part knowing what we're up against, part just us raising our game, getting better and better as the series go along," Toews said. "Obviously we don't draw it up in some situations when we get down in a series; it's not part of the plan. But I think we have confidence when we get in those situations that we can take it one game at a time, focus on the next game, continue to put pressure on the other team."
That’s not the only time the Blackhawks have been in this situation. The Anaheim Ducks won two of the first three games in the 2015 Western Conference Final.
The Blackhawks’ track record suggests they have a great chance to recover in this series, even if the historical numbers for all teams in this situation do not. While the Blackhawks are one of five teams to lose Game 3 and fall behind 2-1 in a Cup Final before coming back to win (out of 26 tries), no road team has won Game 3 in this scenario and not claimed the Cup.
Thirteen times the road team has won Game 3 to go up 2-1, and 13 times that club has won the Stanley Cup.
"We all know how skilled and how fast [the Lightning] are, how good they play as a team, their system, the way they move the puck, their power play," Toews said. "They don't have any weaknesses, if any.
"I think we've put ourselves in a good spot in third periods the last couple games. We kind of for a minute or two get away from what's making us a good team. We let them play their game a little bit too easily, it ends up hurting us. We can do the things we're doing, but keep on raising them to another level. Across the board, I think every guy knows there's more in store. If we bring that, we'll find ways and create the bounces we haven't gotten the last couple games."
For the 2014-15 Blackhawks to replicate the feat of two seasons ago, they will likely need to do more to bother Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop. He made 36 saves in Game 3, but his mobility was clearly limited because of an undisclosed injury and Chicago did not do enough to expose the problem, minus a barrage during the final 15 minutes of the first period.
For years, the Blackhawks have found another collective gear as postseason series progressed. They’re going to need to do it one more time if they want to win a third championship in six seasons.
"We got a great core of leaders," Quenneville said. "They’re competitive as heck. They find a way to get better each and every game. They make guys around them better. They have accountability internally. They demonstrate that by how they compete. Guys seem to follow. I think that's the best recipe for a coach to have.
"These guys come ready to play and find ways to win. Just the opposite as what happened over the last couple of games, when games were on the line, we came out on the short end. Maybe we were fortunate in Game 1. All three games, third periods are tied. That's one of our strengths as a team."