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Blackhawks turned corner with second-round rally

by Corey Masisak /

CHICAGO -- For most teams that win the Stanley Cup, there is a moment everyone remembers when it could have gone the other way.

When the Chicago Blackhawks won in 2010, they were trailing the Nashville Predators late in Game 5 of the opening round with Marian Hossa in the penalty box before tying the score in the final minute. For the Boston Bruins the following year, they needed overtime in Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens.

Sometimes a Cup run can't be fully realized until there is a galvanizing event, a turning point where everything begins to click.

Should the Blackhawks defeat the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final and capture a second championship in four seasons, that point will be remembered as the time between Games 4 and 5 in the Western Conference Semifinals.

After slicing through the Western Conference in the regular season en route to the Presidents' Trophy, the Blackhawks suddenly couldn't score against Jimmy Howard and the Detroit Red Wings. Chicago had two goals in three contests and their first three-game losing streak of the season.

Even worse, they were one loss from a historic regular season becoming a footnote in a story about postseason disappointment.

The Blackhawks rallied to win three straight games against the Red Wings, then took care of the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in five games in the Western Conference Final.

"I think the whole year we were kind of going with the flow and not had much adversity," Chicago rookie forward Brandon Saad said. "Detroit kind of put us against our heels. We had to fight back. That showed a lot about the group that we have and we continued that success into the next series."

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said before the start of the series with the Red Wings he wasn't sure his team had found its "playoff legs" after a relatively ho-hum first-round victory against the Minnesota Wild. The Red Wings were playing at another level after beating the Anaheim Ducks in seven games and surprising the Blackhawks with victories in Games 2, 3 and 4.

Coaches like to say they can see their team coming out of a slump before it actually happens, just as they can see ominous signs before the end of a long winning streak. For Quenneville, that was the case, but the results almost didn't catch up in time.

"Well, we were happy to win the first round, but we didn't really -- we weren't excited about the way we were playing. We knew we had to play better," Quenneville said. "I felt in Game 1 we weren't bad against Detroit, but I thought [Game 3] and [Game 4] in their building, I thought we played the right way and we came out on the short end … and it certainly gets your attention.

"We talked about the position we were in at that moment. We didn't like where we were at. We still had a lot of belief in our team and in one another at that moment. We came back with a great response in Game 5 to get some momentum back in our team and feeling better about ourselves. And we won a real big game in Detroit [in Game 6] and kept going. I think we've really improved from not just that moment, but I thought going into Game 3 and 4 we hadn't. We started playing the right way and caught up to the playoff pace that you need to play to have success."

The Blackhawks are definitely a team that believes in momentum -- when they were losing to Detroit, they felt the Red Wings had it, and when Chicago started winning again it didn't want to give it back. Thoughts on the idea of momentum in a playoff series aside, there is no denying the Blackhawks found a new level of form in the final three games of that series.

It carried into the Western Conference Final against the Kings. Los Angeles was the more banged-up team, but Chicago showed no mercy. The Blackhawks attacked the defending champs, pushing the play in their direction for much of the five games.

In the past couple weeks, the Blackhawks have looked more like the team that went 36-7-5 in the regular season and earned its distinction as a favorite to win the title.

"I think everyone got more focused and bought into the system," Saad said. "We weren't necessarily playing bad before that, but we weren't on top of our game. Now, the whole team is flowing, we're playing four lines deep and that's something about why we have success."

Chicago forward Andrew Shaw said, "Yeah, it just shows that playoff intensity steps up. We didn't do it there early in the second round. We found it there late, thank God, and we came back and battled. I think that Game 7 win helped us so much with saying, 'We can do this. We can overcome any [adversity].' We battled through the L.A. series and came out on top so we've got to carry that into the last round here."

There was more adversity in the conference final, but the Blackhawks brushed it aside. They had to play without top defenseman Duncan Keith in Game 4 because of a suspension, but Chicago won anyway, stopping Los Angeles' 15-game home winning streak in the process.

Then the Kings erased two leads in Game 5, including one with 9.4 seconds left in regulation. The Blackhawks struggled with their composure at times early in the Red Wings series. Not being able to score like they had in the regular season clearly shook them, and there were penalties of frustration and anger directed at the officials.

They regrouped after Game 4 against the Red Wings, and regrouped again to defeat the Kings in double overtime of Game 5 to advance to the Final.

"Being down to Detroit, who was a very skilled team and a hard-working team, and being able to come back was really huge for us," defenseman Nick Leddy said. "It just shows how great momentum can be in the playoffs. We just focused a game at a time.

"I think we were [a different team against the Kings]. I think we played how we wanted to. We really need to keep that going."

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