Really, there aren’t many similarities the Chicago Blackhawks can draw upon from last year’s Game 7 loss to the Kings in the Western Conference finals that will help them win Saturday’s Game 7 of the Western Conference finals against the Ducks. The Blackhawks simply know they don’t want to endure that same feeling again.
“At the end of it, that was the toughest loss of probably our lives,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Wednesday after his team defeated the Ducks 5-2 in Game 6. “That's what we'll take out of it.”
The Blackhawks were so close last year to returning to the Stanley Cup finals for a second consecutive season, and it was taken from them the moment Alec Martinez's shot found the inside of the Blackhawks’ net at 5 minutes, 47 seconds of a first overtime at the United Center.
Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp was on the ice when Martinez scored, and he won’t ever forget what he saw and felt.
“Yeah, I remember I was on the left side,” Sharp said on Thursday. “Martinez shot it from the other side, it got deflected, went in. You could feel the air go out of the building. You could feel your heart drop a little bit, being that close.
“You kind of learn from it. You use it as hunger to get back to the situation and try to learn from your past experience. Hopefully it's a different scenario for us this time.”
If there is a lesson to come from last season, it’s the Blackhawks want to decide Saturday’s Game 7 in regulation. As much success as the Blackhawks have had in overtime -- they’re 4-1 in overtime games in this year’s playoffs -- they also understand the randomness of it.
“Obviously, you get in overtime in a Game 7, anything can happen,” Quenneville said on Thursday. “Those type of things, we've seen three overtime games in our series here. There's some unpredictability there. But Game 7, as a player, those are the type of games you want to be a part of. The disappointment that we exited with is something that should get us excited.”
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews vouched for that.
“I think as a hockey player, you want to talk about the cliché of growing up as a kid, playing on the backyard rink, pretending you're playing that Game 7,” Toews said. “You think of that as the ultimate test for any player to see what you got, to see what you can bring in a high-pressure situation like that.
“I think that's the exciting thing. Again, we can resort to our experience in these situations and just feel confident. We're going to go work. Fate's on our side. We'll find a way to make things happen.”
Whatever happens Saturday won’t change what happened last season, but the Blackhawks are grateful for another opportunity to be a victory away from another Stanley Cup final.
“I think we all love playing hockey,” Blackhawks forward Marcus Kruger said. “We love playing big games, just get a chance to do that. You never get tired of hockey. We play for these big games. That's what everyone plays for.
“We're happy to get the same chance again. I think it's going to be a good game.”