CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is used to the uncertainty of June.
On the eve of another Stanley Cup-clinching game, he has experience to draw on as he waits and tries not to daydream about how sweet it will be to touch the Stanley Cup again.
His family and friends? Not so much.
“I know, for mine, I don't think their experience helps them at all,” he said Sunday as the Blackhawks met the media before Game 6 Monday at the United Center. “They're probably more nervous than they were the first time around. It's definitely not easy to sit and watch. In a lot of ways, it's easier mentally on the nerves to play. We make that joke a lot.”
It’s a fun joke to tell and a good problem to consider.
For the Blackhawks, fresh off a 2-1 win in Tampa Bay, that wonderful feeling of anticipation is somewhat of a summer tradition.
As Chicago braces itself for the possibility of the Blackhawks winning a championship at home for the first time since 1938, the team itself has to toe the border between imagination and reality.
“Obviously, there's a lot of buzz, a lot of excitement, a lot of things going on around the entire event,” Toews said. “I think we're just going to do our best as individuals to focus on our job as players and focus on the game and nothing more. None of that stuff is really going to help us achieve what we want to achieve. That's where our heads are at right now.”
Either history is on the Blackhawks' side or their Game 6 trend is due for some disruption. This core has won both its Cups in the penultimate game of the series, in Philadelphia in 2010 and in Boston in 2013.
That shows this group’s success late in a series. In their two previous Stanley Cup seasons, the Blackhawks went 18-3 in Games 4-7. This year, they are 8-1 in those games. That late-series record swells when you go back to Joel Quenneville’s first season as head coach in 2009.
“I don't know what it is,” defenseman Johnny Oduya said. “I think we have some guys that like certain situations. They like being in the spot when the pressure is on. They're not afraid to make those mistakes. They take a lot of responsibility. I think that shows maybe later on in the series.”
What makes a champion?
Great players, obviously. And something you can’t quantify, even with Hawk Harrelson’s work with the TWTW analytic.
You know it when you see it. And this team has it when it counts.
That is the result of having Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford, Brandon Saad and the rest of the mix.
“You know, you don't have to worry about as much as a locker room because you just know everybody's kind of got their head in the right place,” said the 35-year-old Brad Richards, in his first year as a Blackhawk. “They're just, like I said, used to doing it. Once you have success doing it, it's never going to get easier, but it gets easier to prepare and focus on the right things as you go into these games.”
The fans are certainly prepared for a party. On the secondary market, the get-in price for standing-room tickets is about $1,000. The cheapest actual seats are going for about $1,500, according to SeatGeek.com. Good seats are going for the price of a used car.
The bars will be crowded beyond good sense. So many people seemingly have a stake, financial or emotional, in this game. This isn’t a must-win game, but it’s rare for a Chicago team to win a title in Chicago.
“It's not just another game, but that's the way we got to try to approach it,” Seabrook said. “It's a huge game. Tomorrow there's going to be a lot of things going on throughout the day, morning, afternoon and night. Lots of things going on throughout the game too, different battles and things like that. We've got to be prepared for the game, the task at hand.”
It’s mid-June. The playoffs have lasted two months, including a 10-day break before the conference finals. The Blackhawks’ training camp festival opened Sept. 19. That’s 10 months of work after a run to the conference finals in May 2014, which came after a Cup win in late June the previous summer.
History is built on the backs of labor, sacrifices and hard work and through being in position to capitalize on so-called lucky bounces.
“It's not an easy journey trying to get to the end,” Quenneville said. “But at the end, when you look back on it, that's what makes it so valuable.”
“It goes by very quick,” said Richards, who won a Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004. “When it’s over, middle of the summer, you want that feeling, that memory back again.”
The Blackhawks are in the memory-making business. And business is very, very good.