GLENDALE, Ariz. -- You’re going to hear a lot about heart and desire and determination regarding the Chicago Blackhawks’ thrilling 2-1 overtime win in Game 5 of their playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday.
But make no mistake, there is one other thing that showed up for Chicago in staving off elimination: talent.
“They’re resilient, they’re competitive, they never say die,” coach Joel Quenneville said after the fifth consecutive overtime game in the series. “I still think going into today’s game one of the things we tried to stress is we haven’t played our best yet, and I think there is another level we have to get to and when we get [there] it’s going to feel great and taste great. So let’s think we’re getting there, and I think this was a major step in that direction.”
In fact, this could be the turning point.
Even with some of the Hawks’ stars not playing at their typical level against the Coyotes for most of the game, Chicago only let up for a portion of the second period -- and it almost cost the Hawks. But they were rewarded with a Nick Leddy goal to tie it in the third period and then the Jonathan Toews winner in overtime.
“That’s got to say something about our character and what we are able to do,” Toews said. “Especially against a team that late in games is so good at protecting leads and playing smart defensively and not making too many mistakes.”
Character was never really a question with the Hawks. Not with Toews in charge. The captain called his team together for a rare players-only talk on the ice Saturday morning, and then they went out and played a dominant game for about 60 minutes. That lapse in the second period, when Phoenix scored, was the only real downer of the night.
“We played our best game of the series,” Quenneville said. “Even when we were down 1-0 going into the third I still liked the way we were playing. … We didn’t give up much, we didn’t get a ton, but at least we had better pace in our team game.”
If there is any key word to the Quenneville era as coach of the Hawks it’s “pace.” When the Hawks have it going at the right tempo, few teams can match them. The problem in this series is the Coyotes’ full reliance on patience. An up-tempo pace can create mistakes, and the patient Coyotes have pounced. They have shown to be adept at the art of the counterpunch. Still, over the course of 60 minutes, if played the right way, the Hawks’ talent should simply win out.
“We dictated the play from the start,” Duncan Keith said. “We played hard the whole way through. It’s tough being behind by a goal when you are dictating most of the play. We stuck with it and finished it off in overtime.”
Think about it. Phoenix has scored on soft goals given up by Corey Crawford or on glaring mistakes by the defense, not on sustained pressure or waves of offense. In back-to-back games the Hawks gave up just 19 shots in over 60 minutes of play. That’s as good as it gets.
“This overtime period especially, we felt like this was our game and we were going to go out there and take it,” Toews said. “We want to feel like this game was a turning point for us in this series.”
And it just might have been. It’s the game the Hawks remembered they have more talent on their roster and to throw away a series -- at least in five games -- would be a missed opportunity.
“We played well in the first, thought we had a good second, and we were still hanging there for 60 minutes. We were doing what we wanted to do despite chasing it at the end.”
That’s all you can ask for, especially against this Coyotes team. Maybe the real Hawks just showed up.
Game 6 on Monday will confirm or deny that suspicion.