CHICAGO — When the Chicago Blackhawks were in deep trouble in the second round of the playoffs, they used desperation to their advantage and pulled off a big comeback in an already impressive season.
After the Blackhawks lost top defenseman Duncan Keith to a suspension before Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, Chicago didn’t let the Los Angeles Kings get even, despite their dominant home record.
Now that the top-seeded Blackhawks are just one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup finals, they want to play with the same sense of urgency when they hit the ice at home for Game 5 tonight.
“I think we can just go into (today’s) game with the mindset that we’re down 3-1,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said Friday. “It’s up to you to motivate yourself and try and put yourself in that position that you feel like you’re in a seventh game.”
Toews and company returned to Chicago on Friday after snapping Los Angeles’ 15-game home winning streak with a 3-2 victory on Thursday night that gave them a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The Blackhawks got it done without Keith, who was as excited as many of his teammates had ever seen him when they came into the locker room after the victory.
The Kings need three straight victories against the NHL’s top-seeded team to prolong their title defense, but they won’t have to look very far for inspiration.
Chicago dropped three of the first four games in the second round against Detroit, then returned home and beat the Red Wings 4-1 in Game 5. The momentum moved over to the Blackhawks, who earned two more victories to advance.
That is one big reason why the Blackhawks are hoping to finish off the Kings in Game 5 and avoid another trip to Los Angeles, where the Kings are 8-1 during this year’s playoffs and 14-4 over the past two postseasons.
“We were on the other end of this, so we kind of know what they’re thinking,” Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya said. “We know this is not over. This is a really, really good team and we know we don’t want to go back to L.A. That’s a tough place to play.”
The Kings jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Thursday night and led 2-1 late in the second period, but were unable to hold on. They managed just two shots in the third as the NHL’s longest postseason home winning streak since 2009 ended.
“I couldn’t tell you what caused that,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said, referring to the lack of quality opportunities in the third. “We have to get more pucks to the net, more bodies to the net. That’s not just the third, it’s the whole series. The Hawks have done a good job in limiting our rush chances.”
This is the 12th time the Kings have opened a playoff series with three losses in four games. The only time they were able to advance was in 1989 against Edmonton. Only 25 NHL teams have accomplished the feat.
But Los Angeles already has a six-game winning streak this postseason, a run that ended with a 2-1 loss at San Jose in Game 3 in the previous round. The Kings feel good in knowing they have 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick, who made 25 saves on Thursday and is capable of turning around a series.
“One thing about this group of guys is we tend to play our best hockey when we’re really in trouble,” Brown said. “You look at last year in the regular season, I think we were in 13th place with 20 games to go. It’s a different situation when you’ve just got one game to play, but you can draw on being in the trench hole together.”
Keith is slated to return to the Blackhawks lineup after serving his one-game suspension for high-sticking Jeff Carter in the face during the second period of Game 3. Keith, the 2010 Norris Trophy winner as the league’s top defenseman, is a key part of Chicago’s lineup, but his absence was a source of inspiration for his teammates.
“It makes the rest of us that are still playing want to show we can still do a great job,” said fellow defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who had two assists Thursday. “I think we did that.”