Blackhawks hope to parlay ‘anger’ from Game 5 into supreme effort vs. Ducks

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The Blackhawks spend most of the playoffs trying to convince themselves they’re in a must-win situation. But they’re never more dangerous when it’s for real.

Trailing the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in the Western Conference final, the Hawks are relying on their history of being a tough out to keep their hopes alive in Game 6 on Wednesday night at the United Center.

“It’s something we know we’ve done before,” forward Brandon Saad said. “When we’re in tight situations like this, we have a veteran group that has been through it and we know how to win games.”

The Hawks’ history of playing their best only when they absolutely have to is maddening at times. But from captain Jonathan Toews on down, the Hawks take a lot of pride in that. In 2011, the core of this team rallied from a 3-0 deficit against the top-seeded Canucks to force a Game 7. In 2013, they recovered from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Red Wings en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Last year they rallied from a 3-1 deficit to force a Game 7 against the Kings.

They lost a little bit of that championship-mettle luster when they lost leads of 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 in that game on home ice and fell 5-4 in overtime in that game last June. But the Hawks haven’t completely lost their knack for overcoming adversity. This is a team that went nearly 110 minutes without scoring in Game 2 against the Ducks and allowed three goals in 37 seconds in Game 4 — and won both of them.

In a series that has been as tight from start to finish as any the Hawks have played in seven seasons of the Toews-Patrick Kane era, the Hawks’ 5-4 loss in overtime typically gave both teams reason to think they still control their own destiny.

The Hawks rallied from 3-0 and 4-2 deficits to tie — with the uncanniness of Toews in all its glory, as the Hawks’ captain scored twice in the final 1:50 to send the game into overtime. But the Ducks fended off the potential knockout blow to win on Matt Beleskey’s rebound goal 45 seconds into overtime.

Now it’s the Hawks’ turn to respond. They are 9-4 in elimination games under Joel Quenneville. And Quenneville indicated that the ever-cool, always-confident Hawks definitely felt the latest blow from the Ducks, even if they didn’t show their pain afterwards.

“You can visit history — look at past games, big games, big moments,” Quenneville said. “There’s a lot of history here that we’ve collected over seven years. A lot of positive things.

“[But] I think we all came out of last night’s game with an anger and a real sour taste in our month. Sometimes that can be better than a history lesson.”

The Hawks, though, have a little bit of short-term history on their side in Game 6. They have yet to lose consecutive games in the postseason. And though the Game 5 loss dropped them to 0-4 in games following a multiple-overtime game, they recovered to win the next game the previous three times.

In fact, the Hawks have lost four games in the playoffs this year — three of them after multiple-overtime games; the other following a nine-day layoff. On “regular rest” they are 8-0 in this year’s playoffs.

That’s a trend worth watching. While both teams have played the same overall minutes throughout the series, it’s clear the Hawks —whose average age of 28.1 is nearly two years per man older than the Ducks (26.2) — have been more affected by the wear-and-tear of the series. Their lethargic start to Game 5 following the double-overtime victory in Game 4 — when they fell behind 3-0 in the first 15 minutes and didn’t register a shot on goal until 16:24 had elapsed in the first period — might have been the most compelling evidence yet.

And for what it’s worth, if the Hawks survive Game 6, there’s an extra day of rest before Game 7, which would be Saturday in Anaheim.

That might be incentive in itself. But the Hawks’ biggest asset heading into Game 6 is that they are comfortable in this situation. They even seem to embrace it.

“It’s more fun to play these games than the regular games,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “When it’s all on the line, that’s when you want to play. You want to play elimination games [and] obviously come up on the winning side. [Those are] the most fun games to play.”

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