LOS ANGELES — Jonathan Toews has seen some things.
He’s seen 3-0, 3-1 and 3-2 series deficits disappear. He’s seen countless last-minutes goals. He’s seen a struggling team fall backward into a playoff spot. He’s seen an average season give way to a championship postseason. He’s seen a loss become a Stanley Cup in a mere 17 seconds. He’s seen that, with these Blackhawks, seemingly anything can happen. And often does.
And he’s seen that preternatural confidence and poise rub off on new teammates and prospects, year after year, improbable victory after improbable victory.
“The experience we bring is a huge factor in the tighter games, or when we’re down a goal or two, or when we’re struggling during the season,” Toews said. “We’re able to not hit the panic button, and we’re able to just relax and find a way to come back, or to get the team going. And I think, eventually, that translates into the entire team, especially guys that have only been here a short while, or who are still early in their career. That feeling, that culture, that understanding of knowing how to win games is always there.”
It was there on Friday afternoon in Anaheim’s Honda Center. Trailing 2-0, the Hawks were composed and on the attack, getting goals from Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith in the final two minutes before winning it on Artem Anisimov’s goal in overtime. Meanwhile, the Ducks, a perennial regular-season powerhouse whose mental toughness has come into question year after disappointing year, were “panicking and throwing [the puck] to them,” in the words of their coach, Bruce Boudreau. And they were the team up two goals.
On the Hawks bench during those frantic few minutes, there was never any doubt that the game still was within reach.
“You’re always playing till the buzzer,” Andrew Desjardins said. “That’s just the way this team is. It’s part of the team identity, that the game’s not over until it’s over.”
Desjardins picked up on that vibe quickly after being traded from San Jose to Chicago on March 2 last season. The Sharks are one of those teams the Hawks tend to prey on, a team whose playoff history is fraught with frustration. Desjardins will never speak ill of his former team, of course, but he noticed right away how different the feeling is in the Hawks dressing room before games, during games, and after games. Losses are shrugged off more easily, wins are celebrated more mildly.
It’s a confidence borne of experience, a hard-earned arrogance that no matter the situation, the Hawks will be fine in the end.
“You definitely get that mind-set after it’s happened a few times,” Desjardins said. “It just becomes part of your own identity, too. These guys have been doing it for however long now, and it obviously rubs off on the younger guys. They have that belief, so the younger guys start to believe, too.”
Tanner Kero hasn’t won a Stanley Cup. He was in the USHL when the eighth-seeded Hawks clawed back from a 3-0 deficit to force Game 7 in Vancouver in 2011. He was at Michigan Tech when the Hawks rallied to beat Detroit in a character-defining second-round win in 2013. He was in Rockford when the Hawks won Games 6 and 7 against the Ducks last spring. He wasn’t even playing Friday afternoon in Anaheim.
But in barely a month with the team, he’s already bought in.
“You definitely notice it right away when you’re in here,” Kero said. “It doesn’t matter what the score is, how many you’re down, you go right until the buzzer and that confidence is always there. They know they always have a chance. They believe in themselves and they believe that they can come back from whatever deficit it is. The older guys do a great job in showing how to stay confident and keep your head up. They just keep going. You learn from that and try to take in as much as you can.”
Joel Quenneville calls it a “competitive” nature, that the Hawks, perhaps more than any team he’s ever played for or coached, are better physically prepared and better mentally equipped to handle any situation. And he said it starts at the top, with the captain.
“As a coaching staff, you’re in a good spot knowing that the message is always there [about] doing things the right way,” Quenneville said. “Guys definitely notice Jonny’s intensity and professionalism right off the bat.”
It’s why the Hawks weren’t too concerned when they were in sixth place a month into the season. It’s why a dismal 1-5 road record to start the season was met with mild annoyance. It’s why there’s rarely anger in the Hawks dressing room after a loss. It’s why it’s hard to get too worked up about an occasionally sputtering power play, or an off night for a goaltender, or a sluggish effort, or really anything over the course of a game, or the course of a regular season.
The Hawks have been there. They’ve done that. And, more often than not, they’ve come out on top.
“You just have that feel with this group,” Desjardins said. “There’s so much talent in this room, and so much character. You put those two together, those are the kind of wins that are going to happen.”