The Blackhawks are so used to finishing fast after starting slowly in a playoff series under Joel Quenneville, it’s almost seems like the Tampa Bay Lightning have the bigger chore ahead of them, even with a 2-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Final.
Not quite, of course. The Lightning have been the better team in a closely played series, with the best player in defenseman Victor Hedman. They lead the series and have home-ice advantage. And most importantly, they’re playing like a championship team. The Lightning arguably have played the Hawks’ game as well as any team the Hawks have faced since winning their first Cup in 2010. These aren’t the Ducks —a formidable, worthy opponent that didn’t have that something extra that is needed to beat the Hawks.
Nonetheless, with captain Jonathan Toews setting the all-important tone in a critical moment of the series, the Hawks are resolute in their belief that they control their destiny — that it’s just a matter of staying at it, playing their game and eventually they will impose their will on the youthful, quickly-maturing Lightning.
Toews elucidated that approach clearly Tuesday when asked if there was anything in particular about what the Lightning are doing that the Hawks have to address.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “We all know how skilled and how fast they are and how good they play as a team. Their system, the way they move the puck. Their power play. They don’t have any weaknesses. I think we to a certain degree know they’re going to get better.
“But I think it’s just about raising our game and not letting them do what they want to do. We’ve put ourselves in a good spot in third periods the last couple of games. But we just for a minute or two get away from what’s making us a good team. We let them play their game a little bit too easily and it ends up hurting us.”
Of course, that’s what opposing teams usually are lamenting against the Hawks — coming oh-so-close only to have Toews or Patrick Kane or Marcus Kruger or Andrew Shaw come up with a key goal or Corey Crawford rise to elite status for a key moment and make 60 saves when he has to.
After two consecutive games in which the Lighting broke third-period ties to win in Games 2 and 3 and with home-ice advantage, it’s the Hawks whohave to deal with that challenge. Eventually, they might have to confront the reality that they are in a deeper hole than usual this time.
But that time is not now. Not for Toews and the Hawks, anyway. This is a team with a history of recovering from these predicament. After losing 3-2 in Game 3 on Monday night at the United Center, the Hawks are 30-30 (.500) in Games 1-3 of a playoff series under Joel Quenneville; they are 40-14 (.741) in Games 4-7.
No wonder they think like they do.
“We can do the things that we’re doing,” Toews said, “but just keep on raising them to another level and across the board, every guy knows there’s still more in store. If we bring that, we’ll find ways and create the bounces that we haven’t gotten the last couple of games.”
Quenneville doesn’t sound like he’s rearranging his chess board or plotting any major changes in dealing with the Lightning. While respectful of the Lightning’s prowess, it sounds like this is just another challenge to the Hawks.
“There’s always things we talk about technically adjusting … game-to-game,” Quenneville said. “There’s things you can make an awareness [of] to your team. That all goes hand-in-hand in how we look to progress in games and in series.
“Our team adapts in a lot of ways. We have a little bit more predictability in what their players do, whether it’s individually or collectively, and go off of that.”
On the other side, the Lightning are playing their strong hand well. They’re confident and pleased with how consistently they’re playing at a high level, but refusing to bask in the glory of having a 2-1 series lead after beating the Hawks at their own game and in their own rink to move within two games of winning the Stanley Cup.
“We’re a long ways away,” said 36-year-old forward Brenden Morrow, a 14-year veteran who with the Blues last season saw the Blackhawks rally from a 2-0 deficit in the first round to win four straight. “That [Hawks] locker room over there — there’s no panic in their game right now. They’ve been here before. They know what it takes. So we know we’ve got a tough road ahead of us.”
But like the Hawks, they too feel they control their own destiny. Just keep doing what they’re doing — only better —and they’ll get there.
“We’re not really focused on Chicago,” coach Jon Cooper said. “We know they’re a talented team and a world-class team. But we feel like we’re in that group as well.
“It’s how we’re playing that’s going to dictate, we feel, how this series is going to go. The way the boys are competing, just that never-say-die attitude — it’s unreal to be behind the bench with these guys.”
Quenneville feels the same way about his team. History is on his side, but as the Hawks discovered last year when they rallied from a 3-1 series deficit against the Kings only to lose Game 7 in the Western Conference final, that’s not a guarantee. Quenneville appreciates his team’s history, but doesn’t want his players to lean on it.
“It can help,” Quenneville said. “I think we should be exiting Game 2 and Game 3 with anger, a lot of emotions. There’s got to be purpose behind it. We’ve had some history of being in situations where we’ve been in the exact same spot [and responded].
“[But] you can’t dwell on that. I think there’s confidence in the group that we’re able to do it.I’m worried about one game. And we haven’t seen our best yet.”