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Blackhawks motivated to end series in Game 5

by Brian Hedger /

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks are a little sore after winning Game 4 in triple overtime, but they boarded their flight to Tennessee on Wednesday knowing they're one win from advancing to the Western Conference Second Round.

The Blackhawks are ahead 3-1 in their best-of-7 first-round series against the Nashville Predators and get the first of three chances to eliminate their Central Division rival in Game 5 at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports 3, CSN-CH, FS-TN).

Chicago knows how to close out a series as well as any team in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Since the 2008-09 season, when coach Joel Quenneville took over, the Blackhawks are 11-3 when they can clinch a series. Two of those three losses came in overtime of a Game 7, including against the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Western Conference Final.

"As you go along in a series, deeper in a round, each game becomes that much tougher [and] that much more meaningful," Quenneville said. "You have to get better each game. You can't think how you played the last game is going to be good enough to be successful [in] the next one. That has to be our message."

Quenneville does everything he can to prevent the Blackhawks from falling into a comfort zone when ahead 3-1 in a series. It doesn't hurt that he has a veteran leadership group backing him up.

After winning the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013, the Blackhawks' core group knows what to expect Thursday.

"[Game 5] will be the toughest game, clearly, because that team's got a lot of pride," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "They got a lot of skill and a lot of ability. I don't think any team wants to get knocked out of the playoffs and have their season end. I think that's when teams really realize what's on the line and when they play their best hockey. That's what we can expect from them."

Scott Darling
Goalie - CHI
GAA: 1.05 | SVP: .969
The Predators should expect a similar effort from the Blackhawks, who will start rookie goalie Scott Darling for the third straight game.

Darling made 50 saves and outlasted Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne in Game 4, which took 101:00 to decide, setting a Predators record.

Darling, 26, who played for Nashville's American Hockey League affiliate last season, made 35 saves to win Game 3, his first Stanley Cup Playoff start, and won Game 1 in double overtime with 42 saves in relief of starter Corey Crawford.

There likely will be questions prior to the game about the Blackhawks' energy level and motivation to end the series quickly, but it won't be anything new for most of them.

"You never want to give another team another chance," Chicago center Brad Richards said. "We have a chance to close it out. You know how hockey is. Somebody gets life and starts going, you never know what can happen. Every day it's the same. It's the biggest game of the year and it's going to be the toughest test of the year. As tough as [Game 4] was to win, it's probably going to be a lot tougher [Thursday] to win, especially in their building."

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