CHICAGO — In case there were any doubts, the Chicago Blackhawks are showing they can be resilient as well as dominant.
They made it look easy in the regular season. But they had to dig deep in the playoffs.
The Blackhawks dug their way out of a 3-1 deficit to Detroit in the Western Conference semifinals to take the series in seven games, beating the rival Red Wings 2-1 on Brent Seabrook’s overtime goal Wednesday night.
They will now face the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in what could be another difficult series for a team eyeing its second Stanley Cup in four seasons. Game 1 of the conference finals is in Chicago on Saturday.
This is hardly a time to breathe easy, but the Blackhawks can at least exhale a little after surviving a grueling series against another Original Six team.
“It’s not the way you want to win a series, going down 3 games to 1,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “But to come out on top given the situation we were in three games ago, it shows the character that we have on top of the ability and the potential this team has. We need to use the ability and the confidence this gives us.”
No team made it look easier in the regular season than the Blackhawks, who got off to a record start and captured the Presidents’ Trophy for finishing with the most points. But it’s been a different story in the playoffs.
They came in looking for more after back-to-back first-round exits following their championship run in 2010. They took out Minnesota in five games and were looking good after a 4-1 win over Detroit in Game 1, but the series turned in a big way after that. The Blackhawks managed just two goals in Games 2 through 4 and found themselves facing elimination.
It didn’t help that Toews lost his composure in Game 4 after being targeted by the Red Wings and wound up being sent to the penalty box three times in the second period. The Blackhawks were looking like an unglued team at that point, but they stuck together, instead. They held a meeting and began mounting an improbable comeback.
Chicago had to regroup again late in Game 7 after the potential go-ahead goal by Niklas Hjalmarsson got waved off in the closing minutes of regulation. The crowd was in a frenzy after he fired a shot past Jimmy Howard with 1:47 remaining, except it didn’t count. The Blackhawks’ Brandon Saad and Red Wings’ Kyle Quincey got tangled by the Detroit bench, and referee Stephen Walkom called roughing penalties as Chicago went in for the goal.
Seabrook wound up winning it in overtime with a wrist shot that deflected off Detroit defenceman Niklas Kronwall’s leg and sailed past Howard’s glove into the left side of the net.
The Blackhawks outscored the Red Wings 10-5 over the final three games and became the 25th team to win a series after falling behind 3-1. It was the first time a Chicago team had done it.
“You know what, we did have some learning curves in this round definitely,” Seabrook said afterward. “Detroit played a great series. We really had to find ourselves after the fourth game being down 3-1. I thought the boys responded well. We played a very good Game 5. I thought we played a very good Game 6. I thought we played very well tonight. Detroit gave us all they had. It was just nice to come out on the winning end of this.”
Now, they’re looking at another big obstacle.
No goalie has been hotter in the playoffs than Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick with a .948 save percentage, although Chicago’s Corey Crawford (.938) has been almost as good.
Quick dropped two of three games against the Blackhawks during the regular season. His save percentage was .857 and he allowed 12 goals.
“We’ve had progressively much tougher series and they keep getting tougher,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “LA’s got the Cup and they’ve played two tough rounds in a row. They know how to win. We’ve got to be well-prepared and excited about the opportunity.”