LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 30: Brent Seabrook #7 of the Chicago Blackhawks with the puck against Marian Gaborik #12 of the Los Angeles Kings in the second period in Game Six of the Western Conference Final during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on May 30, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks may not have the amount of experience in Game 7 situations that the Los Angeles Kings do, but over the past few seasons, they have played in several classic games when all the chips are on the table.
Back in 2011, the Blackhawks played in their first Game 7 of the Patrick Kane/Jonathan Toews era, going up against the Vancouver Canucks on the road. The contest had the added benefit of being a potential history-maker, as the Hawks had come back from a 3-0 deficit in the series to force a Game 7.
The game didn’t get off to a great start for the Blackhawks, as Alex Burrows scored less than three minutes into the game to give Vancouver a 1-0 lead. That lead held up throughout the vast majority of the game, as the Canucks ended up peppering Corey Crawford with 38 total shots and came within inches of adding to their lead on several occasions, including on a Burrows penalty shot attempt early in the third period. The goaltender stayed strong however, and allowed his team an opportunity to overcome the deficit late in the third period.
While short-handed with Duncan Keith in the penalty box, the Blackhawks suddenly tied things up. Naturally it was Toews doing the honors, scoring the short-handed goal to tie things up at 1-1 with just under two minutes remaining in the game. The excitement for Chicago was short-lived though, as the Canucks ended up winning the game in overtime. When defenseman Chris Campoli blew a tire in the defensive zone, Burrows skated in untouched with the puck and fired a shot past Crawford to give the Canucks the 2-1 victory and eliminated the defending champions from the playoffs.
In 2013, the Blackhawks faced elimination again as they welcomed the Detroit Red Wings to the United Center for Game 7. In that series, the Hawks had trailed three games to one after losing three consecutive games against Detroit, but they had stormed back thanks to the newly formed top line of Bryan Bickell, Toews, and Kane. This game had all sorts of drama as well, but it got off to a better start for Chicago as Patrick Sharp’s goal early in the second period gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead.
Henrik Zetterberg tied things up at 1-1 early in the third period with a goal of his own, but that wouldn’t be the most significant play of the frame. With less than two minutes to go in regulation, Kyle Quincey and Brandon Saad got tied up along the half boards, and they were both whistled for penalties. Niklas Hjalmarsson was in the process of scoring a goal while the fracas was going on, and it was ruled that his goal would be disallowed as a result of the penalties.
The call definitely put a damper on the proceedings at the UC, but the mood was quickly lifted in overtime as Brent Seabrook scored the game winner by deflecting a slap shot off of Niklas Kronwall’s skate and into the goal to send the Blackhawks to the Western Conference Final.
Both of those games, and really both of those series, illustrated several key lessons that the Blackhawks need to carry into their Game 7 on Sunday night. First and foremost is that they can safely expect the unexpected to occur. Toews’ short-handed goal against Vancouver and Hjalmarsson’s disallowed goal against Detroit were both series-defining moments, but ultimately the better team ended up overcoming the hardship and winning in both situations.
The other and most obvious lesson is that the game will likely be decided by a razor-thin margin. Both Blackhawks Game 7’s in recent memory were decided by just one goal in overtime, and the two teams playing were fairly evenly matched throughout. The Kings and Blackhawks have definitely been evenly matched so far in this series, so any notions that the Hawks are going to come in and blow the doors off of the Kings are simply silly.