CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks felt they hadn’t experienced any true adversity in their season prior to the playoffs.
A lot has changed since then.
Three playoff series later, the Blackhawks feel like a battle-tested group that can now face any challenge and get through it.
From minor adversities, like losing a game to the Minnesota Wild in the opening round, to major ones, like falling behind 3-1 in their second-round series to the Detroit Red Wings, to somewhere in between, like bouncing back from allowing a late third-period goal to pull out a double-overtime 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, the Blackhawks don’t believe they’d be headed back to the Stanley Cup finals without all they’ve gone through in the past month.
“We played great hockey throughout the regular season,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We were able to get to the top of the league and stay there for most of the time. You know that you're not going to go through a lot of things you go through throughout the playoffs. I don't think you get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup without going through moments like we have.
“You got to persevere. Even though this is just a five-game series [with the Kings], we felt like there were some tough moments, too. Every time we dealt with it head on. I think the feeling and the confidence that we got from coming back from that 3-1 deficit against Detroit, I think that gives you a lot of confidence. Here we are again.”
The obstacles in their win Saturday were getting back up after seeing two of their leads erased.
First, the Blackhawks built a 2-0 lead in the game’s first six minutes, and the Kings rallied to tie the game with a second-period goal and another at 3:34 of the third period.
Secondly, the Blackhawks went back ahead 3-2 with a Patrick Kane goal at 16:08 of the third period, and they appeared to be in position to hold onto that lead as the final minute was reached. But with 9.4 seconds remaining in the third period, the Kings’ Mike Richards deflected a shot and sent it past Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford to tie the game and force overtime.
The Blackhawks were crushed. They thought they had the game secured twice, and twice the Kings proved otherwise. But as the Blackhawks arrived to their dressing room during the intermission prior to the first overtime, they felt like they had been in that same position before.
In Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinal against the Red Wings, the Blackhawks celebrated when defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson appeared to score a go-ahead goal late in the third period, but it was waved off moments later because coincidental penalties that were called behind the play. The game went into overtime, and the Blackhawks used the intermission as a way of reigniting themselves.
Ultimately, the Blackhawks scored in overtime and advanced to face the Kings.
On Saturday, the Blackhawks pulled from that experience.
“We actually talked about it, so I think we were prepared for it and knew what to do and went out there and did it,” Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw said. “We obviously didn’t want to go back to L.A., a lot of travel, a lot of hockey, so we went out there and gave it our all and put our foot on the gas and went out there and got the win.”
This time it took two overtimes, but the Blackhawks finished the job again. Kane scored his third goal of the game at 11:40 of the second overtime, and the Blackhawks moved on to the Stanley Cup finals to face the Boston Bruins.
The Blackhawks don’t expect the Stanley Cup finals to be any easier. But whatever the series does bring, they feel now they can handle that, too.
“We got a great chance to go back to where we want to be,” Toews said. “We know there's going to be some more tough moments that we'll have to battle through. We're confident we can do that as a team.”