Our Pledge To You

News

Blackhawks hope experience counts in Game 7 against Blues

Brent Seabrook is mobbed by teammates after scoring the series-winning goal in overtime of Game 7 against Detroit on May 29, 2013. (Getty Images)

Hanging on the wall of his basement, framed and in his line of sight every time he sits down to watch TV, is the stick Brent Seabrook used to score the biggest goal of his career — the overtime winner in Game 7 against Detroit in 2013.

Seabrook has won three Stanley Cups, and an Olympic gold medal, but there’s just something about a Game 7 that heightens the tension and the intensity, even for battle-tested veterans.

“I don’t think you ever learn how to play in a Game 7,” Seabrook said. “When you play in more of them, you get — comfortable’s not the right word — but you get not as nervous, I guess.”

That Game 7 goal, of course, capped the Hawks’ comeback from a 3-1 series deficit against a hated division rival, and propelled them to a championship. They’re hoping the same situation plays out this spring, as they visit the St. Louis Blues for Game 7 on Monday night.

It’ll be the fifth time the Hawks play a Game 7 under Joel Quenneville — all of them forced by the rallying Hawks. They lost at Vancouver in 2011 after erasing a 3-0 series deficit. They beat Detroit at home in 2013 after being down 3-1 in the series. They lost in overtime to Los Angeles at home after rallying from 3-1 down. And they beat Anaheim on the road to complete the comeback from a 3-2 down.

The question is, does that give the Hawks a mental edge on Monday night? It’s merely an extension of the entire series theme of the unflappable Hawks against the perennial first-round flop Blues. St. Louis has defied its history throughout the series, showing poise and confidence in the face of adversity. But the Hawks, who have been the inferior team for much of the series, have returned the favor with their usual late-series moxie.

“I think you have to have mental toughness,” Duncan Keith said. “We were down 3-1 and we found a way to do it in Game 5, and then [in Game 6] we played a good game and had a lot of composure being down 3-1 in the game. So it’s just sticking with it. There’s a belief there, but at the same time it’s just sticking with the process and trying to play your best when it’s needed most.”

Seabrook is one of the players who have done that. He has at least a point in all four previous Game 7s, including the clinching goal against Detroit and the final dagger goal against Anaheim last year. Jonathan Toews is another — he scored two goals in the first period last year to all but ruin the suspense; had a goal against the Kings; and scored a shorthanded goal against Vancouver with 1:56 left in the game to send it to overtime.

The Hawks’ roster is littered with such big-game stars.

“I love playing in big games,” Seabrook said. “The bigger the game, the better I feel, the more up I get for it.”

Proven playoff performers are harder to find on the St. Louis roster. Six Blues have played in one Game 7, and Scottie Upshall has played in two. Troy Brouwer, meanwhile, will be playing in his seventh consecutive Game 7, dating all the way back to the Vancouver series in 2011, his last game with the Hawks. He’s 2-4 in such games.

“I know a lot about Game 7s,” he said. “The fun that they are, the intensity they bring, how it brings out everybody’s best game on both sides. They’re fun to play and they’re fun to watch. It’s as much pressure as you wan to put on yourself. We’re excited to play. I know a lot of guys in here haven’t played a Game 7 yet in their career; they’re excited for it. We’re going to have some fun with it. We’ve worked hard to put ourselves in a good spot this year, to hopefully knock off the defending champions in a Game 7.”

Both teams downplayed the mounting pressure on the Blues, who have lost in the first round despite having home-ice advantage in each of the last four seasons. Ken Hitchcock is the fourth-winningest coach in NHL history, but his job could be on the line Monday night. All the pressure has shifted to St. Louis. Going up against a team that’s won 10 playoff series in the last three years doesn’t help matters.

“I think it helps to be there and have that experience,” said Marian Hossa, who will be playing in his 10th Game 7 (he has a 3-6 record). “But [it’s] starting 0-0, so it could go either way.”

Indeed, it’s a toss-up, just as the rest of this evenly matched series has been. And because of that, the Hawks hope their clear mental edge can make the difference.

“This is the best time of the season,” Seabrook said. “We don’t want to go home yet.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus