CHICAGO -- Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad said he managed to get some sleep Saturday night, on the eve of the team's biggest game of the season, but he’s not sure that trend will continue Sunday.
“It’ll be tough to nap this afternoon,” he said after the morning skate at the United Center. “But I’ll try to relax and take it like any other game.”
Sure. Any other elimination game for the right to appear in the Stanley Cup final.
The Blackhawks take on the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals at 7 p.m. at the United Center. There is no Game 8, so it's a pretty big deal.
It’s the third Game 7 for the Kings in this postseason and it’s the third elimination game for the Blackhawks in this series. The Kings have experience coming back from the precipice, but Chicago is confident in its home building. The Blackhawks haven't lost a Game 5, 6 or 7 in the last two postseasons.
“Being down 3-1 and the comeback that we’ve had to bring it back home for a Game 7, definitely exciting,” forward Bryan Bickell said. “One win away from being in the finals and we’re going to leave everything out there.”
Like Saad, Blackhawks fans might not be able to catch any afternoon shut-eye either. The cheapest seat at the United Center was going for upward of $350 on the secondary market, according to SeatGeek.com, for a chance to see Chicago make its third Stanley Cup final in five years, and second in a row. The cheapest seats closer to the ice were going for just shy of $1,000.
Chicago's last home game, a two-overtime win to extend the series, is being touted as the “loudest” home game in recent memory. The entire series is being plugged as one of the best conference finals in recent memory, form the quality of the play to the drama of Chicago’s comeback.
So the Blackhawks were asked if they can appreciate the magnitude of this series on the morning of its end.
“Being a part of it, we know it’s been special series, a lot of up-and-down, fast-paced games,” forward Ben Smith said. “But we want to be on the winning side of it. The loser of this series probably won’t be remembered.”
While the stakes are high, as Smith said, the players are trying to stay even-keeled.
“You got to stay relaxed,” said the 21-year-old Saad, who has been starring in the Western Conference finals “These Game 7s are big and the moment’s huge, but games five and six were pretty big too. We’re trying to stay the same and keep going.”
The Blackhawks are experienced at this type of moment. As reporters pecked away on their keyboards after media availability Sunday, Patrick Kane and Saad breezed by the media room with smiles on their beard-covered faces.
“We’re fortunate, guys in the room have played a lot of Game 7s and been around the playoffs before, been in big spots,” Smith said. “Those guys lead us, those guys who have been around here for awhile. Guys like me are trying to follow their lead.”
As for changes, the 25-year-old Smith skated with Patrick Sharp and Marcus Kruger on the third line in practice. They’ve played well together recently in this series and Quenneville said he likes what he’s seen.
Sharp, who had 34 goals in the regular season, only has three in the postseason, with one coming in the third game of this series. He had a nice game in the Hawks’ 4-3 Game 6 win, but everyone is waiting for his breakout performance.
“The biggest thing for us is being strong defensively,” Smith said. “But adding Sharpie on there, I think we can add another element of offense that this team needs. We have the guys that score, but if we can provide that second-tier offense, obviously Sharpie’s not a second-tier offensive guy, but from Kruger and me to contribute a little bit, that’d be nice. It’s exciting for us to get a bit more ice, to get a bit more opportunity and try and make the most of it.”
There will be plenty of opportunities for someone to star Sunday night. Who will take the spotlight?