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Blackhawks get chance for redemption in Game 7

by Brian Hedger /

ANAHEIM -- Almost exactly one year later, the Chicago Blackhawks still remember the sting from Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez's goal that ended their bid to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

They remember the fluttering shot from the point that found its way past goalie Corey Crawford. They remember the stunned silence inside United Center after Game 7 of the Western Conference Final ended at 5:47 of overtime. They remember the empty feeling of coming just short of playing the New York Rangers in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

It's a feeling they've tried to erase but will carry with them into Game 7 of the 2015 conference final against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"You go that far in the playoffs, you're one win away, you're going to remember that feeling and understand what you just went through," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said Friday after practice. "But at the same time, there's no other choice but to turn the page. You know, clear out the locker room, all that sort of thing. I think some of that feeling, even though it was a year ago, you can still remember a little bit of it, kind of understand that we don't want to have that feeling come this way [again], and we want to make sure we do our best to try to get through this time."

This time, the skate is on the other foot.

The Blackhawks are the road team for this Game 7 of the conference final, and they need to find a way to win their second game in Anaheim in the series. Using their own pain from a year ago is a good start.

Last season, the Blackhawks could've become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Instead, that dream was ripped away by Martinez, whose soft shot from the left point in overtime traveled through a block attempt by Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy and slipped past Crawford unseen.

Some Blackhawks relived that moment countless times in their head during the offseason, cringing every time. It was a long trek to get back to this point, but here they are again facing another Game 7 against another big, physical team from California.

It's a chance to counter that bitterness with some sweet redemption even if it's not against the Kings.

"It's that opportunity that we lost, and I think we're taking it one step at a time this year," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "We've finally gotten back to a point where we're giving ourselves a pretty good chance again. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. We haven't done that so far, so obviously, [Saturday] night's a big one."

It's every bit as big as it was a year ago, especially when all that's happened this season is taken into consideration. The Blackhawks went through a number of ups and downs on the ice, and dealt with sad news off it.

They were stunned by the sudden death of former assistant equipment manager Clint Reif in late December, went into an extended stretch of mediocrity, and then lost right wing Patrick Kane to a fractured left clavicle on Feb. 24, knocking him out for the remainder of the regular season.

In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the hits kept coming.

They lost veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival (fractured left ankle) for the remainder of the playoffs in the second period of Game 4 in the second round, forcing coach Joel Quenneville to lean even more heavily on his top four defensemen against the Ducks.

The Blackhawks are saying all the right things about how good they feel, but the looks on their faces tell another story. It's been a hard, physical series for each team, but they've been hit more and harder.

The Blackhawks have survived, though, and now they get a chance to right the ending from June 1, 2014, they felt was so wrong.

"It's a great opportunity for us," Quenneville said. "It's a long process [from] when we exited that game at home last year, and to get to this stage, it's a long road. There's a lots of twists along the road, a lot of bumps and hurdles and challenges. The perseverance of the group is amazing. Where we're at today, going into [Game 7], you couldn't ask for a better opportunity."

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