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Predators forward Filip Forsberg is surrounded by the Blackhawks’ Niklas Hjalmarsson (4), Johnny Oduya and Jonathan Toews (19) in front of goalie Scott Darling in the Hawks’ 3-2 triple-overtime victory Tuesday night and Wednesday morning at the United Center. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Jonathan Toews: Game 5 ‘needs to be our best game of series’

SHARE Jonathan Toews: Game 5 ‘needs to be our best game of series’
SHARE Jonathan Toews: Game 5 ‘needs to be our best game of series’

Duncan Keith looked typically fresh, well-rested and ready to go, barely 12 hours after he left the ice following a yeoman’s 46:19 of ice time in the Blackhawks’ 3-2 triple-overtime victory against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

“I feel fine, actually. I feel better than I did after Game 1,” Keith said, referring to the Hawks’ 4-3 double-overtime victory to start the series. I don’t know if that’s just because the body gets used to it. Just like everybody else, you try to get as much sleep as you can and recovery as far as your nutrition and rest. I’m doing all the little things to try and get [my] body to go at it again [Thursday] night.

That’s great for Duncan Keith. Unfortunately, the two-time Norris Trophy winner is not “just like everybody else.” He has a rare ability to maintain his elite level of play with marathon minutes. And then get right back on the ice and do it all over again.

“He could play another 46 minutes I’m sure,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “He was willing to do whatever it took to win [Game 4].

“You go into these overtime intermissions, and he was the one talking in the locker room, saying, ‘Let’s just wait these guys out. Let’s just be patient. Let’s just be smart. We can wear them out and find that one mistake they’re going to make and we’re going to capitalize on it.’”

Keith and Toews exemplify that kind of mental toughness that has defined the Hawks as a postseason gold standard in the NHL in recent years. The Hawks have their ups and downs, but they just keep coming, keep battling, never lose faith in themselves and find a way.

And they usually do. Though the Hawks tend to walk a high-wire without a net at times throughout the playoffs, they have a knack for getting the job done. They’re 12-3 in potential clinching games under Joel Quenneville —11-1 when they are not themselves in danger of being eliminated. In Quenneville’s seven seasons, the Hawks are 33-32 in the first four games of a playoff series and an incomparable 25-5 in Games 5-7. This is their time.

With a 3-1 series lead, but coming off two multiple overtime games already — needing nearly 88 minutes to win Game 1 and 101 minutes to win Game 4 —the Hawks’ vaunted mental toughness will be put to an early test in Game 5 at Bridgestone Arena. A veteran team with a lot of experience, but also several high-mileage players, the Hawks will try to close out a desperate team playing on its home ice.

“Always the hardest game is to close out a team,” center Brad Richards said. “I think it’s harder when you’re up 3-1, because human nature is always to say you’ve got another chance. They don’t. So you always talk about trying to match that desperation.”

For what it’s worth, the Hawks have been up 3-1 in a playoff series three times in the Quenneville era. They lost at home to the Canucks in the second round in 2010 before clinching the series in Vancouver in Game 6. In 2013, they beat the Wild at home in the first round and the Kings at home in the conference final to win those series 4-1.

“[Thursday] will be the toughest game, clearly because that team’s got a lot of pride,” Toews said. “They’ve got a lot of skill and a lot of ability. Nobody wants to get knocked out of the playoffs and have their season end. I think that’s when teams really realize what’s on the line and when they play their best hockey. That’s what we can expect from them.”

The Hawks are capable of manufacturing desperation. In the Quenneville era, they’ve won Game 6 on the road six times when they had Game 7 at home in their back pocket if they lost. Can they do it in a Game 5? That’s the challenge.

“We can try and find that desperation where we put ourselves in their position where these games are as important for us as they are for them,” Toews said, “knowing that if we don’t finish the series off it’s going to get tougher and tougher for us and more and more pressure will be on us. Not that we want to add any pressure. I just think we need to have that urgency that [Game 5] needs to be our best game of the series.”


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