Blackhawks more than just talented
Erasing 3-1 series deficit against Detroit shows Chicago has grit to go with skill
CHICAGO -- With a 914.4-meter stare and a flat Canadian accent, Dave Bolland talked about his season-saving hit that freed the puck for Brent Seabrook and led to the overtime goal that shook the United Center and reverberated through the NHL.
"That hit was something that made the play there, and Seabs followed it up and put it in the back of the net," Bolland said.
Thanks, Dave. I guess you had to be there.
I was lucky enough to be there, high above the ice, and the end of the Chicago Blackhawks' 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals was richer than Bolland's bland recounting.
It was the exorcism of a 3-1 series deficit against their hated rivals. It was retribution of a game-winning goal waved off. It was jerking awake from a week of nightmares about a dream season wasted.
The goal was rebirth for a hockey team left for dead by a fleeing bandwagon and a dangerous under-seeded Red Wings team.
The Blackhawks, the team that couldn't lose (in regulation) to start the season, went to the precipice and saw their version of hell, an angry summer of hooking drives into trees and wondering what might have been. Who knows what changes would've been made after three straight disappointing postseasons?
For the 22,000-plus jammed into the United Center, Seabrook's goal, a straight-ahead shot that deflected off Niklas Kronwall's left skate and fluttered past goalie Jimmy Howard, was cause for pure exhilaration.
"Shooting pucks around in the front yard against the garage, breaking garage doors, it's always something you think about, scoring an overtime winner, Game 7," Seabrook said.
That wasn't a garage-door breaker. But it was the winner. You don't get many of those, especially as a defenseman.
"I'm a defenseman, so when I have that much room I usually screw up, trip or fall or something like that," Seabrook said. "[Coach Joel Quenneville] harps on it on all the time, put pucks on the net, anything can happen. I think it went off Kronwall a little bit, changed direction. I don't know."
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All he knew at that moment was it went in.
Like a lot of his teammates, Seabrook had a tough start to the series, only recently getting reunited with his Cup-winning partner, Duncan Keith.
In this game, he failed to deflect Henrik Zetterberg's goal when he slid in front of the net, trying to disrupt a two-on-one. That happens, of course. But revenge was sweet.
It's not about revenge anymore, or relief. The Blackhawks need to use this series to mentally prepare for the next one. The Western Conference finals start Saturday at the United Center. The Los Angeles Kings and goaltender Jonathan Quick didn't have the Stanley Cup hangover that hammered the Hawks in 2011.
But for the Blackhawks, the President's Trophy winners who set an NHL record with a streak of 24 game points to open the lockout-shortened season, this series should serve as proof they are as resilient as they are talented.
Chicago's first goal was a beauty as Patrick Sharp buried a give-and-go with Marian Hossa a minute into the second period. It was a hint of how good Chicago can be when there's space and time. Of course, this is the playoffs, where you win a series on a defenseman's deflected shot in overtime.
The Blackhawks know they have to play better than they did this series to keep advancing.
"Yeah, it's a relief you won the series. It was a tough-fought series," Patrick Kane said. "Down 3-1 and you come back. At the same time you realize how good you can be. You don't want to put yourself in that hole, but for us to get out of it and come back and win, not many teams can say they've done that. It proves a lot in here."
One thing it proves is that they don't want to play this kind of series again.
"It's not the way you want to win a series going down three games to one and having to come back like that," captain Jonathan Toews said. "Given the situation we were in three games ago, it's pretty amazing. It just goes to show the character that we have on top of the ability and potential that this team has. Looking forward, we need to use that ability and use that confidence that winning a series like this gives us."
The Blackhawks had it won in regulation when Niklas Hjalmarsson buried a shot with less than 2 minutes to play. But a referee blew a whistle before the shot, calling a double roughing call on Brandon Saad and Kyle Quincey for tussling in front of the Red Wings' bench. It was a curious call to say the least, especially since it looked like Saad got knocked around.
As the Blackhawks' excellent radio play-by-play man, John Wiedeman, said to me between periods, "If the Red Wings win after that call, they'll be talking about that call for decades. Decades."
They still will around here if the Blackhawks win another Cup. Before they composed themselves, Toews said there was "violent emotion" from their bench when they heard the whistle and saw the shot go in.
What did Toews, the man celebrated for his serious nature, say at that moment?
"I can't repeat that right now," he said with a hint of a smile.
Toews, given his status on the team, was the one who calmed down the team in the dressing room before the overtime period. He told them to keep it together and told them to win it.
"It's too early to go home," Toews said. "We want to keep playing hockey for another month. We enjoy going on the road and playing Mario Kart and being together. There's nowhere else to be right now."
Yes, Hawkeytown is the place to be right now. For the Blackhawks, the dream season continues with eyes wide open.