Kimmo Timonen has seen plenty of good players and been on several good squads in his long NHL career.
As far as team resolve, however, nothing may beat the one the Blackhawks core has established and practiced the last few seasons.
“I’ve seen a lot of teams, a lot of hockey players, a lot of different systems. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to these guys,” Timonen said on Thursday. “I would say the top eight guys who have been here for six or seven years, these guys are so dedicated for this sport, hockey, just taking care of themselves.
“It surprised me. I’ve never seen that before. It is not a surprise these guys have won it couple times and been in Conference Finals every year.”
That dedication and mental strength, coupled with the talent, have helped the Blackhawks play a lot of hockey the past few seasons. And it has them vying for another trophy as the team heads back to Tampa for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night.
For those who have been in the Blackhawks’ locker room for a while, the team’s ability to handle pressure and thrive in critical situations and on big stages isn’t a big surprise anymore. For those like Timonen, Trevor van Riemsdyk and others who haven’t been here long, it’s eye opening in a good way.
“Just seeing how a 24-hour commitment that everyone puts in, takes care of themselves, they're some of the most competitive, hard-working people I've ever met,” van Riemsdyk said. “You can see that on the ice; no matter what the situation, you feel confident we're going to work our way back, get those chances at the end to have a chance.”
Game 4 was a perfect example of that. The Blackhawks didn’t play very well on Wednesday night, managing just two shots on goal in the game’s first 20 minutes. Yet there they were leading 2-1 as time wound down in regulation, fighting off a Lightning attack that somehow didn’t result in a game-tying goal.
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Brad Richards talked earlier this postseason of the self-sufficient Blackhawks locker room. There are enough players from that core, including Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, who have been here and done this enough and keep calm. That thought process is evident on the ice, too, from when bounces don’t go the Blackhawks’ way to when they do.
“This team has a lot of experience,” Richards said at the time. “The more you do it, the more you stay with the process, stay with the structure, all this stuff. This team has been doing it for seven years. Your core group doesn't overreact. It's pretty even keel.”
Coach Joel Quenneville said it’s not really about talk with this group.
“These guys don't really say a whole lot,” he said. “I think they let the way they play and the way they carry themselves do a lot of their speaking for them.”
The Blackhawks have built a core that knows how to handle the ups and downs of the postseason and knows how to win. Some of the newer Blackhawks have been pleasantly surprised with just how resilient this group can be.
“I think there's an appreciation for the way, watching these guys from afar. Coming into a new team, you see the way they compete on a game-to-game basis,” Quenneville said. “They see how important winning is around here; probably very noticeable.”