There’s no escaping the numbers and the Irresistible Force vs. the Immovable Object showdown they create in Game 7 of the Western Conference final Sunday at the United Center.
The Blackhawks are 13-0 in Games 5-7 over the last two postseasons. They’re 5-0 when facing elimination. The Los Angeles Kings are 6-0 when facing elimination this spring alone and 2-0 in road Game 7s. And the 19 Kings expected to play Sunday are a combined 64-2 in Game 7s in their careers. Justin Williams, Marian Gaborik and Mike Richards each are 6-0 in Game 7s, and Williams has six goals and six assists in those six games.
Of course, the numbers are as meaningless as they are staggering. Past is not prologue. History doesn’t always repeat itself. But they underscore just how good these teams have been — how talented, how mentally strong, how difficult to kill.
“Both teams are good when it comes down to big games, so it’s going to be the toughest game to win of the series,” Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “Both teams are pretty equal in those kinds of situations, so it kind of evens out. It’s just best-of-one — one game, and winner goes to the Final. So it’s pretty exciting.”
Fitting, too. The series has been riveting, deemed by countless pundits and writers as one of the best in recent memory. Not just because of the caliber of play, which has been sensational — high-paced, frenetic, end-to-end, high-scoring hockey. But also because of the character of the teams — the last two Stanley Cup champions, unshakable and relentless. There very well might be such a thing as momentum, but in this series, with these teams, it never lasts long.
Even the players in the midst of the action can tell they’ve been part of something special, something that will be remembered for some time.
“You can feel it’s high-level hockey, that’s for sure,” Hjalmarsson said. “They’re bringing it every game, they’re a machine-like team. … I really think this series deserved a Game 7. The crowd deserved it, too. It’s going to be a great finish to a great series.”
The Hawks have forced this Game 7 by the skin of their teeth — rallying from one-goal, third-period deficits in both Games 5 and 6. They won Game 5 at home in double overtime. They won Game 6 in Los Angeles on Patrick Kane’s goal with 3:45 left in the game. So it’s not as if they’ve dominated and demoralized the Kings, who put on a confident face after squandering a chance to put away the series at home.
“We’re over it already,” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “It’s not that tough [to move on] We’re fine. We still believe we could have won [Game 6]. We know that we can still beat this Chicago Blackhawks team. But we also know it’s not going to be easy.”
It’s the second consecutive year the Hawks have forced a Game 7 after trailing 3-1. In last spring’s second round, the Hawks rallied in the third period to win Game 6 on the road, then recovered from Hjalmarsson’s apparent game-winner late in the third being disallowed because of a questionable call on Brandon Saad far behind the play.
“I still have a mark in my stall from the intermission,” Hjalmarsson said about how angry he was that night. “It reminds me every day I go to my stall. Hopefully I can get one of those allowed.”
He can laugh about it now, because Brent Seabrook scored in overtime and the Hawks went on to win the Cup. But it’s a reminder of just how fine a line it is between winning and losing, especially in the playoffs, especially in Game 7.
“It’s one game, but there’s a lot at stake,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I’m sure the guys are going to have a lot of fun with it.”