Can the Blackhawks finally win a Stanley Cup at home? Can they lay claim to a modern-day NHL dynasty with their third Stanley Cup championship in six seasons?
And while they’re at it, can they allow their fans to revel in the anticipation of that glorious moment instead of relying on some sudden, last-minute heroics — Patrick Kane’s awkward overtime goal that virtually nobody saw in 2010 against the Flyers; and two-goals-in-17-seconds in the final 1:16 that turned defeat into a Cup-clinching victory in 2013 against the Bruins?
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Hawks captain Jonathan Toews’ singular focus will allow for none of that malarky heading into Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday at the United Center. Where they do it, how they do it and the historical ramifications are only distractions. All Toews knows is that the one final step is a giant one, against an opponent that arguably has given the Hawks more fits than any other since they first became Cup champions in 2010.
All the Hawks have done so far is win three-out-of-five coin flips — each game of the Final has been tied in the third period. Neither team has led by more than one goal in any game. Maybe the Hawks’ 2-1 victory at Amalie Arena in Game 5 — clearly their best game of the series —was an indication they’re reeling in the Lightning like they have so many other playoff opponents in the past six seasons. But with Patrick Kane still in the clutches of Victor Hedman; with Lightning captain Steven Stamkos yet to speak up in this series; and with the Lightning still inches away from winning every game, the Hawks are taking nothing for granted.
“Whenever we answered questions going into a Game 6 with a chance to win the Stanley Cup —everyone asked, ‘Would you rather win on the road or at home?’ For us, there was no difference,” Toews said. “We have a chance to do that [Monday] night. We want to take advantage of it.
“Obviously there’s a lot of buzz, a lot of excitement, a lot of things going on around the entire event. We’re just going to do our best as individuals to focus on our job as players and focus on the game and nothing more. None of that stuff is really going to help us achieve what we want to achieve. That’s where our heads are at right now.”
Again, the Hawks have their own playoff history on their side — a team that often fritters away prosperity early in a playoff series has a knack for putting the hammer down and avoiding unnecessary Game 7s. The Hawks are 9-0 in Game 6 with a chance to clinch under Joel Quenneville. Six times they’ve had a Game 7 at home in their pocket and clinched on the road — including the Stanley Cup Final series against the Flyers in 2010 and the Bruins in 2013.
This time the prospect of a Game 7 is not as much of a luxury — it would be at Amalie Arena. So the urgency is as great as its ever been.
“We played a really good game [Saturday night]. We’re looking to build off that,” Toews said. “We know we have to be better in the next one, because it’s going to be their best game of the series as well.”
Indeed, the Lightning are counting on their own strong will to carry them in an elimination game. They rallied from a 3-2 deficit to beat the Red Wings in the first round. They won Game 7 at Madison Square Garden to oust the Rangers in the Eastern Conference final.
“There was disappointment — actually a little bit of rage after [losing Game 5],” coach Jon Cooper said. “The guys were genuinely ticked off.
“I clearly did not want to lose that game. But walking in there, there’s a difference. You want the team that’s ticked off and angry or you want the team that has their heads buried in their hands? Our group was the angry group. If they’re going to be angry birds [Monday] night, that’s what I want. Usually they’re rock solid when they come out with that mentality.”
Coming off back-to-back victories, the Hawks counter that anger with a steady hand, a laser focus and the patience of a team that has been here before.
“I think the more you do it, the more you get addicted to it. You’re comfortable in those situations,” veteran forward Brad Richards said. “When I got to win [the Cup] in Tampa the first time [in 2004], we were a bunch of young kids not really having a clue what we were doing. This group feels a lot more like they’ve been through it.
“There doesn’t have to be a lot of speeches, reminders. The core group has kind of all done it together, they’ve grown up together. You don’t have to worry about as much as a locker room because you just know everybody’s kind of got their head in the right place.Once you have success doing it, it’s never going to get easier. But it gets easier to prepare and focus on the right things as you go into these games.”
With a chance to win the Cup on Monday night, Quenneville said he does not plan to deviate from the normal mode of preparation. Just “make sure we’re ready to play,” he said.
So the Hawks know better than to expect a rah-rah, go-get-’em speech from their emotional coach.
“My speeches are not good,” Quenneville said. “I don’t want to go there.”