Blackhawks' confidence 'unwavering' when facing elimination

Blackhawks' confidence 'unwavering' when facing elimination

The Blackhawks have played in so many big games over the last seven years that's it's too many to count. 

That will happen when you win three Stanley Cups in six years, and appear in five Conference Finals since 2009.

It's the primary reason why their confidence hasn't fluctuated despite falling into a 3-1 series hole, which was cut to 3-2 following Thursday's double-overtime 4-3 victory against the St. Louis Blues.

"We love to play these kind of games, we have a lot of players that have been a part of it before and (are) very comfortable with playing these types of games," Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "We have a lot of players that want the puck in big moments and do something good with it.

"We're excited. This is the most fun part about hockey, playing in these eliminating games. Obviously you want to be on the other side of it, but it's still a lot of fun to play in and have your backs against the wall and know if you lose, you're out.

"That's when you have to respond and play your best hockey and I think that's a really strong asset of our team to do that."

Dale Weise, who was acquired at the trade deadline from Montreal and scored two playoff overtime goals for the Canadiens last spring, felt those vibes immediately when he joined the Blackhawks.

But he noticed it even before he got there.

"I think watching them the last couple of years as just a fan of this team, you can just see the resilience that they have," he said. "There never seems to be any panic, and I think just being a part of it now you see why they've had so much success. There's just an unwavering confidence about the team, no matter what the score is, time of the game; there's just no panic.

"They've got some great leaders in this locker room that kind of step up and say things when they need to and I think that just kind of radiates throughout the whole locker room and everybody becomes a part of it."

It was certainly evident in Game 4.

Marian Hossa scored his first goal of the series to put the Blackhawks on the board first.

Duncan Keith logged exactly 42 minutes of ice time, which doesn't surprise anyone in Chicago.

Corey Crawford registered 43 saves, more than half of them in the third period and overtime, where the Blackhawks were outshot 26-15.

Patrick Kane stepped up like he often does in crucial moments, potting his fifth career playoff overtime goal, which is tied for third-most in NHL history. 

The stars delivered when called upon with their season on the line, and knowing you have those types of players on your side in key moments exudes confidence that trickles up and down the roster.

"I think we've been in a lot of different situations over the years," Kane said. "It obviously helps to have that experience, knowledge of maybe what's going to happen. We've been in these situations before, whether we've been down in a series or we have to win that one game to get ourselves back into it.

"We just try to focus on that one game and I think it's the same thing for Game 6."

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut


Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!