Jonathan Toews stood tall and defiant, calm and composed. There was no anger, no bitterness, barely a trace of disappointment in his voice. Mere moments after the kind of kick in the gut his team usually delivers, not receives, the Blackhawks captain said all the right things, spouted all the right clichés. And he sounded like he meant every word — like he fully believed the Hawks would rebound, would come back strong, would win.
Just like he sounded in 2011 against Vancouver. Just like he did in 2013 against Detroit. Just like he did in 2014 against St. Louis, then again against Los Angeles.
“We’re a tough team to get rid of,” he said.
And he’s right. History has proven that. But these aren’t the Red Wings. These aren’t the Blues. These Anaheim Ducks are a lot more like Kings, if not like the seemingly unkillable Hawks themselves.
The Ducks rebounded from a triple-overtime loss in a Game 2 they could have won a half-dozen times, with a Game 3 win. They rebounded from a double-overtime loss in Game 4 with a win. And even within that Game 5 victory, the Ducks rebounded from a stunning collapse late in the third period, in which Toews became the first player in Stanley Cup playoff history to score two goals in the final two minutes to tie a game.
It’s a toe-to-toe battle between two heavyweights, two resilient and resourceful groups, in a series that’s rapidly nearing the level of last year’s Western Conference final, one of the most memorable in recent history. And so as the scene shifts back to the United Center for Wednesday’s Game 6 — a true must-win for the Hawks —there’s a palpable sense that anything can, and will, happen.
“We know the situation,” said Ryan Kesler, who had a virtuoso performance in Game 5. “We know they’re on the brink of elimination and they’re going to play their best game. And we have to up our level, too.”
Past is not prologue, of course — the Hawks entered Game 5 a perfect 14-0 under Joel Quenneville after a series had been tied 2-2, and lost —but neither team’s track record in this situation is terribly comforting. The Hawks have been down 3-2 in a series four times under Quenneville, and only won once — against Detroit in 2013, when they rallied from 3-1 down. Anaheim, meanwhile, has been up 3-2 in a series under Bruce Boudreau three times, and lost two of them. In fact, a blown 3-2 series lead knocked them out of the playoffs in each of the past two seasons — against the Kings last year, and against those same Red Wings in 2013.
Four straight games have been toss-ups, and there’s little reason to think anyone has a true edge entering Game 6. Might as well flip a coin.
Each team has looked dominant at times, and each team has looked overwhelmed at times. Each team’s biggest stars are starting to produce at the right time. And each team’s goaltending situation suddenly looks a bit shaky. Frederik Andersen, so good through the first four games, was awful in Game 5, giving up three soft goals, including Toews’ equalizer in the final minute. The Hawks never got a chance to test his confidence in overtime, because Matt Beleskey scored 45 seconds in.
You have to wonder what his mental state is.
“We expect him to be great,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said.
And Corey Crawford, tremendous all series, especially in overtime, is clearly rattled by the Ducks’ incessant bumping of him, repeatedly complaining to referees and retaliating in the crease.
You have to wonder where his focus is.
“He’s got to be willing to hold his ground, but at the same time, referees can make their calls,” Quenneville said. “But you can’t get distracted.”
The Hawks truly believe they can overcome anything. The Ducks truly believe they can beat anybody. Both teams appear to be right. Something’s got to give.
“You get a chance to close out a series, two things are going to happen,” Boudreau said. “One, they’re going to give you their best game. And two, you’re going to give them your best game.”