Suddenly, history no longer is on the Blackhawks’ side late in a playoff series.
After their 5-4 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks in Game 5 of the Western Conference final on Monday night at the Honda Center, the Hawks face a 3-2 deficit in the series and the prospect of having to win Game 7 on the road to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Hawks have been down 3-2 in a series four times under Joel Quenneville — once each in the previous four seasons — and have survived only once. In the second round in 2013, they overcame a 3-1 series deficit against the Red Wings —winning Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena and Game 7 in overtime at the United Center.
They failed the other three times: in 2011 against the Canucks, after trailing 3-0 in the first-round series, they won Game 6 in overtime at the United Center to force a decisive Game 7. They lost 2-1 in overtime after another Jonathan Toews Moment, when Toews almost single-handedly scored a tying short-handed goal in the final two minutes of regulation with a spectacular individual effort.
In 2012 they trailed the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 after winning Game 5 on the road. But, playing without Marian Hossa, who was knocked out of the series after a vicious hit by Raffi Torres in Game 3, they lost 4-0 at the United Center in Game 6.
And last season they trailed the Kings 3-2 in the conference final after an overtime victory at the United Center in Game 5. They won Game 6 at Staples Center to force Game 7. But faltered in Game 7 at home — losing leads of 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 in a 5-4 overtime loss.
But especially after the Hawks rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 4-2 in Game 5 — including two goals from Toews in the final two minutes of the third period to force overtime —this is well within the Hawks’ range.
“We’ve been here a few times before, so we’ll be ready to go,” forward Patrick Sharp said after Game 5. “This game’s over with. It’s a loss. It’s a frustrating loss. But we’re in a playoff series. It’s all about the next game.”
The Ducks have control of the series and a home game in hand. But they know what they’re up against.
“They’re a great team. You just don’t go out there and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to win because we’re good too,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Putting them away — you’ve got to play your butt off for 60 minutes.
“We played our butts off for the first 20 [taking the 3-0 lead] … I was a little worried. I thought we outplayed them so bad and it should have been four or five. Then I kept thinking of the [Hawks’] Nashville game — Game 1, how they came back after a 3-0 [deficit]. I kept telling the guys to keep their foot on the gas.”
That Boudreau was so overtly cognizant of the Hawks’ ability to climb back into games that usually are lost and still couldn’t prevent the comeback from happening might be a little disconcerting for Ducks fans. The Ducks and Boudreau have their own history to overcome.
Their playoff demise in both previous playoffs under Boudreau have come in this exact situation — up 3-2 with Game 7 at home. In 2013, they lost 4-3 in overtime in Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena (after rallying from a 3-1 deficit late in the third period) and lost 3-2 in Game 7 at home.
Last year they led the Kings 3-2 in their second-round series. But they lost 2-1 in Game 6 at Staples Center (falling behind 2-0). And never had a chance in 6-2 loss in Game 7 at home — falling behind 3-0 after one period and 5-0 in the second.
The Ducks feel they’ve learned from those experiences. And their play in this series indicates they have. They’re better with playoff-tested Ryan Kesler as their No. 2 center. And they’ve shown their own resilience against a team that — along with the two-time champion Kings — has set the gold standard in that department in the salary-cap era.
But the collapse in the waning moments of regulation in Game 5 exposed some of their vulnerability that fuels a team like the Hawks. Through three games, Frederik Andersen was the best goalie against the Hawks since Mike Smith dominated them in 2012. After Andersen allowed five goals in Game 4 and four goals in Game 5 — including the softest of softies in a critical moment — he’s just another goalie the Hawks are making look average.
The Ducks are the favorite to win this series. But it’s almost as big of a challenge for Boudreau as it is for Quenneville. And the challenge will only increase if the Hawks win Game 6. Boudreau’s teams are 1-5 in Game 7 at home. And again, he knows what he’s up against.
“A lot of times the momentum swings from shift to shift,” Boudreau said when asked if he felt like the Ducks “got the ship settled” in the third period after the Hawks cut the lead to 3-2. “Then we came back and Sami [Vatanen] makes a great play to Patty [Patrick Maroon]. Next thing you know we got a 4-2 lead.
“We were talking on the bench that you can’t let up now because this team never quits. They don’t. That’s why they’ve won two Stanley Cups.”