The Blackhawks are going to have to grind this one out.
For all their renowned speed and skill, it’s the Hawks’ grit that usually makes the difference when times are tough — like in double- and triple-overtime or when emotions run a little high or when they’re trailing in the third period of a game or in the middle of a series.
That’s the spot they find themselves in now, after their 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on home ice in Game 3 of the Western Conference final put them in a 2-1 series deficit.
They need to win Game 4 on Saturday night at the United Center (7 p.m., NBC) to avoid a 3-1 deficit that would force them to win twice more at the Honda Center to win the series. Not an enviable situation, but one the Hawks as much as any team seem to embrace.
“We want to play every game like it’s a must-win,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said, “but it’s easy to find that motivation when you’re down in a series — especially since this is a big game at home.
“We know what’s at stake. We’ll just go out there and play as hard as we can and we’re confident we’ll start getting the bounces if we keep doing the right things in their zone and around their net.”
Said forward Andrew Shaw: “We’ve got to play like a desperate team — work, compete, throw everything at ‘em. We’ve got to take pucks to the net, go to the dirty areas, win those one-on-one battles.”
After a full day’s rest off a game that ended in regulation, the Hawks figure to be in better shape to do that than they were in Game 3 — when they were coming off the triple-overtime marathon at the Honda Center. The 2-1 loss left them 0-3 in games following multiple-overtime games — they lost 6-2 and 5-2 against Nashville in the first round. And after each of those previous losses, the Hawks responded with a better effort and a key victory.
“I think we’re excited for the next one,” Shaw said. “We’re going to go out and give it everything we’ve got, be the team with our back up against the wall. That’s always the most dangerous team to play against.”
When it’s a team with the Hawks’ speed and skill it’s particularly lethal. The Hawks are never better than when they grind. There’s no doubt that Patrick Kane is among the most dangerous and clutch players in the game. When he scores a goal in the playoffs, the Hawks are 24-11.
But if the Hawks are tough to beat when Kane scores, they are almost impossible to beat in the playoffs when their grindiest, most physical players are doing the damage — they are 8-0 when Shaw scores; 6-0 when Marcus Kruger scores; 16-2 when Brian Bickell scores; and 14-0 when Marian Hossa scores. The Hawks were 14-2 when Dave Bolland — a classic grinder — scored a goal in the playoffs. Remember his final one? That’s how the Hawks win in crunch time.
And it’s no secret that’s how you win in the playoffs — winning puck battles, net-front presence, greasy goals. (You gotta love how all the cliches in hockey actually make the difference between winning and losing.) The Hawks preach it as much as anybody. But they’re never better at doing it as when they face adversity. And that time is now.
No wonder, then, that with his team in a jam, Quenneville is leaning more on his players to know what to do rather than pulling some rabbit out of his hat.
“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with this group,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “The leadership, preparation-wise, focus is always in the right place — led by our guys who have been around. That’s the message that’s most important. When you’re playing the game, that takes over. But in between games, the guys prepare the right way. Can’t ask for any more.”