Niklas Hjalmarsson spoke of the opportunity the Blackhawks have on Monday night, of the human nature it is to get excited and dream about clinching a Stanley Cup on home ice.
But there was the other side of that, the reality that the Blackhawks haven’t won a thing yet and, if they get caught in thinking about what could be instead of what currently is, they could come up empty.
“You just have to find a way to calm down and just be excited to play in front of our own crowd,” Hjalmarsson said, “and having the possibility to do something extremely special.”
The Blackhawks have the chance to win their first Stanley Cup at home since 1938 when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night. It won’t be easy, and they’ll have to fight their own emotions as much as they will the Lightning. But the Blackhawks have shown their experience in these situations, handling the big-game pressure well.
“Whenever we answered questions going into a Game 6 with a chance to win the Stanley Cup, everyone asked, ‘would you rather win on the road or at home?’ For us, there was no difference,” Jonathan Toews said on Sunday. “I think we have a chance to do that tomorrow night. We want to take advantage of it.”
With their Game 5 victory in Tampa on Saturday night, the Blackhawks improved to 42-14 in playoff series Games 4-7 under coach Joel Quenneville. Now, for the third time in the past six seasons, they have a chance to hoist a Cup with a Game 6 victory.
The previous two Cups were won in hostile Philadelphia and Boston environments. To win it at home, however, brings a whole new set of emotions. The Blackhawks won’t be trying to tune out an opposing crowd; they’ll be trying to feed off a home one but also trying to balance their own thoughts about possibly winning at home.
“It's obviously tough not to think about some of those things, but you want to try to put that out of your head as much as you can,” Brent Seabrook said. “We're playing a good team tomorrow. We got to be prepared and ready to play our game, be ready to go right from the start.”
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Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks have enough prior situations from which to draw.
“You know, it's an exciting time,” Quenneville said. “I think our guys, they know how to focus and prepare properly. I think over [Sunday], going into [Monday], we’ve got to be excited. We liked how we played last game, knowing we got to be better than that.”
The Lightning have been in this situation before and have flourished under the pressure. They avoided elimination in their first-round Game 6 vs. Detroit before upending the Red Wings at home in Game 7. They walked into Madison Square Garden and shut out the New York Rangers in Games 5 and 7.
Still, the Blackhawks know what’s at stake. They know how to handle pressure. Several players said they want to win the Cup on home ice for the Chicago fans. They’ll have to handle their emotions properly to do that.
“Obviously there's a lot of buzz, a lot of excitement, a lot of things going on around the entire event. I think we're just going to do our best as individuals to focus on our job as players and focus on the game and nothing more,” Toews said. “None of that stuff is really going to help us achieve what we want to achieve. That's where our heads are at right now.”