Blackhawks respond to must-win playoff challenge with return to regular-season form

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo! Sports

CHICAGO — Out the open door of the Red Wings’ dressing room, the music blared into the hallway before Saturday night’s game. The song was “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, a Detroit artist. But the lyrics seemed to speak to Chicago. One shot … one opportunity … Would you capture it, or just let it slip?

Facing a 3-1 deficit in this second-round playoff series, the Blackhawks knew one more loss would ruin everything – the record 24 straight games without a regulation loss to start the season, the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team. He’s so mad, but he won’t give up that easy, no. He won’t have it. He knows his whole back’s to these ropes. It don’t matter …

“We didn’t want a great season like this to end like this,” said Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw.

And so they made sure it didn’t. The Blackhawks looked like the Blackhawks in a 4-1 victory, staving off elimination and setting up Game 6 on Monday night in Detroit. They hit. They skated. They cracked Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, scoring twice as many goals as they had in the past three games combined. Two came from their power play, which had struggled badly. One came from captain Jonathan Toews, who hadn’t scored in the playoffs.

“There’s not much we can’t do as a team when we play like that,” Toews said.

That includes completing a comeback from a 3-1 deficit and making a run at the Stanley Cup.

[Related: Chicago's power play comes alive in Game 5]

The Blackhawks were dominant in the regular season for a reason – talent, depth. They never lost three games in a row. They were never shut out. So it was shocking that they had lost three in a row and had just been shut out in the playoffs, and it would have been even more shocking had they lost four in a row and bowed out meekly.

Frustrated as they were to run into a hot goalie, hit goalposts and not get calls, they were supposed to be the better team and had played like the better team for stretches. They had to stick with it. Odds were, it would turn.

“For three games, they had the momentum,” Toews said. “It didn’t matter what we did, the bounces seemed to go their way and they found ways to sneak out some of those low-scoring games. I think we maybe cut that off and stole the momentum a little bit.”

The Blackhawks came out hitting, while the Wings looked tentative. The Blackhawks scored the first goal, and they got it on a third chance, when they hadn’t been getting enough second chances. Bryan Bickell whacked in a rebound. The United Center exhaled.

For a while, it was tense again. The Blackhawks were brutal on the power play. Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk hit a post, and Howard made a string of saves – Brandon Saad, stoned; Viktor Stalberg, stoned; Michael Frolik, stoned. Dan Cleary tied the game by chipping in a bad-angle rebound. The United Center held its breath.

But then Shaw deflected a point shot past Howard on the power play, and then Toews fired a shot off Howard’s mask on the power play, and then even Wings coach Mike Babcock conceded the game was over. Toews went down on one knee, pumped his fist and yelled – a release, a relief.

“For sure I put more pressure on myself,” said Toews, who took three straight penalties in Game 4, the last one leading to the game-winning goal. “You feel like in big-time situations that you need to find a way to do something, and if you do, it’s going to give your team energy.”

When Shaw tacked on another goal in the third period, it was just an excuse to play “Chelsea Dagger” again.

“They played a hell of a game,” Howard said. “Every facet of the game, they were better.”

It should be a hell of a Game 6. Both teams can come in confident.

The Wings lost Game 1, 4-1, too. They roared back with a 4-1 victory in Game 2, then won the next two at Joe Louis Arena. They know they can respond. They know they can win at home. They know they need only one victory in two tries to make the Western Conference final in a season in which many wondered whether they would make the playoffs.

The Blackhawks suddenly feel like themselves again. Remember, this is a team that came back from a 3-0 deficit in the first round against the Vancouver Canucks two years ago. They lost, but not until overtime of Game 7. This is a team that trailed in two series on its way to the Cup three years ago.

“We know how to win, we’ve just got to go out there and do it,” said defenseman Brent Seabrook. “We played like it was the last game of our season. We’ve got two more like that. We’ve got to focus on Monday night. Get ready to rock and roll.”

Or play some Eminem.

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