ANAHEIM, Calif. — It wasn’t always like this in the Blackhawks dressing room — this calm, this poised, this nonchalant after a win, this defiant after a loss.
“Those first few deep playoff runs that we had, I know personally speaking, I was living and dying with every goal scored, every win, every loss,” Patrick Sharp said. “You think you’re going to win the Stanley Cup, then you think you’re going to lose in the first round.”
Confidence and belief don’t come naturally. Not in the pressure-cooker of the Stanley Cup playoffs, at least. They’re acquired skills, learned over years of travails and triumphs. When you’ve trailed 3-0 in a series against Vancouver and clawed back to a Game 7, and turned a 3-1 series deficit against the rival Red Wings into a seven-game win, and dropped two on the road against St. Louis in the first round before winning in six games, a Game 1 loss on the road in the Western Conference final just isn’t that big a deal.
The Hawks were cool and confident following Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. They were loose and optimistic following Monday’s practice at the Honda Center. Win or lose, it’s always the same: Back to work. The way the Hawks see it, dwelling on the past is a loser’s mentality.
“That [frustration] is still there, but our understanding, especially the leadership group in this room, knows there’s really no reason to be thinking about what happened on the ice for 24 hours a day,” said Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, who famously did just that in his early years, but has since gained a greater perspective. “We did a good job [Sunday] of moving on, we had a good practice [Monday], and we’re confident and we feel good about the opportunity we have [Tuesday]. It definitely is a learned skill, learning how to handle that and move on to the next task.”
That mental toughness always has been a difference-maker for the Hawks, especially in recent postseasons against unproven teams such as the St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild. Yes, the Ducks have momentum right now. But momentum doesn’t mean much against the Hawks.
“They’ve been through all sorts of ups and downs, and that’s what makes them so good,” Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said. “So Tuesday’s going to be a whole new ballgame. You wash away the first game.”
But Anaheim’s different. The Ducks seem to have that same sense of self-belief, that same unwavering confidence. Throughout the weeklong ramp-up to the series, the Ducks talked big, about how they belong, about how the Hawks were beatable. And unlike with the Wild in the previous round, it didn’t sound false, it didn’t seem like a desperate attempt to pump themselves up.
The Ducks won their division each of the past three seasons, and were the top seed in the Western Conference each of the last two. And now that they have three series victories under their belts over the past two seasons, they’re starting to have that same ever-confident, even-keel mentality the Hawks have.
When goalie Frederik Andersen said after Game 1 that the Ducks know they can beat the Hawks, it didn’t ring hollow.
“What do you expect him to say?” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau asked, before affecting a timid voice. “‘Oh, I don’t know! I think they’re too good! We’re not going to win!’ … I’m sure he believe it because we believe. My job is to make them believe they’re capable of beating anybody.”
They believe. And Game 1 backed up that belief.
But if the big-talking Ducks they think they’re getting in the Hawks’ heads, well, good luck with that.
“We know what it takes to win,” Andrew Shaw said. “We’ve been on the dance floor many times.”