NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The pressure is on the Blackhawks to survive Game 4 on Thursday against the Predators at Bridgestone Arena. But the psychology of playoff hockey has a way of turning the heat on the other side, as well.
Patrick Kane already was playing that game Wednesday.
“We really don’t feel any pressure right now,” Kane said. “Being down three-nothing, it seems like all the pressure is on them to win that next game.”
That might be balderdash, Kane and the Hawks just trying to convince themselves the weight of the hockey world is not on them. But until that happens, they’re still the Hawks — with a history of postseason resilience that gives them the right to believe they can will themselves out of even this mess.
As unlikely as it appears right now with the way the Predators are playing, the Hawks’ hopes hinge on reversing the momentum and planting a seed of doubt that compounds itself with each game.
It goes something like this: If the Predators don’t close out the series, they might face some actual pressure to win Game 5 at the United Center or face the prospect of having to win a Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena against a Hawks team that is 15-1 in Game 6s in the playoffs under Joel Quenneville — including an almost intimidating 8-0 on the road. And if they lose that game, their fate would be in the hands of the hockey gods in a roll-of-the-dice Game 7 at the United Center, with the added pressure of avoiding the ignominy of becoming only the fifth team in Stanley Cup history to lose a series after leading 3-0.
The trick is planting that seed of doubt in the first place. The Predators are playing with confidence and seem to know they’re the best team in this series — faster, deeper and with a world-class goalie at the top of his game. That they didn’t flinch after the Hawks took a 2-0 lead in Game 3 and won in overtime is yet another indication they will not be broken.
But the Hawks believe it can be done.
“Sure,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “I don’t think you just go out there with that mindset, but there’s no doubt that can happen.
‘‘The longer you’re able to stay alive in a series — especially when you’re down 3-0 — the longer you can keep it going, it can start to cause that doubt. We feel it’s something we can create.”
The challenge for the Predators is to treat Game 4 with their own desperation instead of realizing they have three more games in their pocket.
“We’re really hungry, and we know what’s at stake,” goalie Pekka Rinne said. “We know who we’re playing against. We know what they’ve done in the past. All those things should motivate you and keep you on your toes.”
Predators coach Peter Laviolette has been in the Hawks’ position. His Flyers rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Bruins in the second round in 2010, eventually losing in the Cup final to the Hawks.
But Laviolette almost sounded like he didn’t want to jinx himself when asked about that series Wednesday.
What did he most vividly remember about that experience, being on the opposite side of the 3-0 (deficit)?
“Not much,” Laviolette said.
Could that experience at least help him prepare his team for the situation the Hawks find themselves in?
“No,” he said.
That was a series he won, by the way — one of the highlights of his career. But anything about a 3-0 series deficit was a hot potato.
“I’m a believer that momentum doesn’t work for you,” he said when asked how the momentum built from game to game during that rally in 2010. “Desperation usually rules the day, so we’re going to need to be a desperate hockey team. We need to play a really good hockey game.”
The Hawks don’t seem to have much going for them entering Game 4.
But they still believe in their vaunted mental toughness to at least give them a chance.
“For sure,” Toews said. “I don’t believe you can win a Stanley Cup without going through moments like this. It’s what makes winning the Stanley Cup so special.”
But the first one might be the toughest of all.
“We’re not thinking anything beyond [Thursday] night,” Toews said. “That’s all we’re worried about right now.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.