Blackhawks need balanced emotions in Game 6


Blackhawks need balanced emotions in Game 6

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.”

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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.”

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch


Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

Brandon Saad played a majority of last season on the first line, started this season on the second to change things up, got demoted to the fourth by the fifth game, and could find himself out of the lineup in the sixth.

Before the Blackhawks hit the ice for practice on Monday, the 25-year-old winger found a white jersey hanging in his stall. That's usually reserved for players who are injured — Andreas Martinsen (back) was the only other player wearing one — or players who are on the outside looking in, which appears to be Saad right now considering he was not part of the four-line rotation.

"I don't think anyone wants to be wearing white around here," he said. "But it is what it is and there's nothing you can do but keep trying to improve. It's their job to make the call to put the best team out there to win hockey games."

Known for being even-keeled through the ups and downs, Saad expressed disappointment about the possibility of being a healthy scratch on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. He didn't exactly show that emotion following his demotion to the fourth line, perhaps out of respect to the players he was playing with by noting how it brings balance.

But he did on Monday, and it was the first time we've really seen some sort of emotion out of him.

"Everyone makes mistakes and things aren't always going to go your way but to be out of the lineup, a little surprised today," Saad said. "But it is what it is. ... No one wants to be out of the lineup. That's never fun regardless of who you are."

When asked to pinpoint what's gone wrong, Saad said he wasn't the right person to ask.

"I think you got to ask him that," he said, referring to Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff. "It's his calls. For me, you can talk pros and cons as much as you want but just trying to go out there and compete and win hockey games. We've won a few here, I know every game has gone to overtime so they've been close. Nothing was said to me about lineup change or anything like that. You just come in and you see your jersey and you go out there and you play."

So Quenneville was asked.

"Just expect more," he said. "That's the situation."

Is his mindset in the right place?

"I think he's fine," Quenneville said. "His mindset is what it is. Whether it's urgency or passion, coming up with loose pucks in those areas is going to be the difference."

The Blackhawks sending a message shouldn't only be directed at Saad. It also serves as a reminder to his teammates and is important to note for the younger guys about earning your ice time.

"I don't really know where the coaches are coming from so I'm not going to comment on that," Jonathan Toews said respectfully. "But [Saad] has been doing some good things and I think it's good for all of us to know what's going on there because if [Saad] can get his ice time taken away, then so can a lot of guys, myself included. So we all want to play well and have team success."

The Blackhawks need Saad to return to form quickly because he's crucial to their overall success. There's no debate about that. It's why the thought of Saad, who played in all 82 games last season, serving as the 13th forward is frustrating for everyone involved.

It hasn't been a problem in the past, but now it's becoming one because of the Blackhawks' aspirations of getting back to the playoffs and their dependence on their top players.

"I don’t think it’s an issue," Quenneville said. "We just expect more out of him."

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

The Blackhawks made sports history on Saturday after they appeared in their fifth straight overtime game to start the season.

No NHL team has done that since the league introduced a regular-season overtime period in 1983-84, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL, showing just how crazy this early season run has been for the Blackhawks, who have rallied from all five games and have come away with wins in three of them.

"We’ve had five games, every one of them have been extremely intense and the game’s been on the line from start to finish," coach Joel Quenneville said following a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. "Our group’s been competitive this year, the guys have been working hard for one another. I don’t know how many games we’ve been down in the third period, and coming back to win is special."

The Blackhawks appeared in 17 overtime/shootout games last season and won seven of them. They are one of six teams this season that have yet to pick up a regulation win.

On a separate note, Saturday marked the eighth time in Blackhawks history that one player scored a tying goal in the third period and scored in overtime (Alex DeBrincat), according to the NHL's PR department. It's the second time it's happened this year for the Blackhawks, with Jonathan Toews the other on Oct. 6 against St. Louis.