CHICAGO – The Blackhawks do not need to look far for evidence that a playoff team can erase a 3-1 series lead as quickly as it appeared.
Anybody have a mirror?
“The game to clinch a series is probably the hardest game,” said Hawks forward Bryan Bickell, arguably his team’s hottest player during the postseason. “We played against Detroit, and fortunately they couldn’t do it.”
Or the Hawks wouldn’t allow Detroit to do it.
This time around, it’s the Hawks that have a 3-1 series lead against the Los Angeles Kings heading into Game 5 of the Western Conference final. A win will thrust the Hawks to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in four seasons, while a loss will prompt a return trip to Staples Center in Los Angeles for Game 6 on Monday.
That’s a detour the Hawks want to avoid.
In theory, the Hawks are in good shape to win the series regardless of what happens in Game 5. They have won all 15 playoff series in franchise history in which they have won three out of the first four games, and less than 10 percent of NHL teams have overcome 3-1 deficits to advance to the next round.
Statistics such as those provide little comfort to Patrick Kane and his teammates, who know the possible dangers that lurk ahead if they give the Kings new life.
Follow the bouncing puck of potential hazards:
• Kings win Game 5, silence United Center crowd.
• Kings play Game 6 at home, where they won 15 consecutive games until Thursday.
• Winner-take-all Game 7 could come down to one strange bounce or deflection.
“We put ourselves in a good spot [in Game 4],” said Kane, who poked a puck past the goal line to snap a seven-game scoring drought. “By no means do we feel the series is over. You know they’re going to come out with their best game in Game 5.
“We have a great opportunity to close it out at home.”
In the conference quarterfinals against the Minnesota Wild, the Hawks did just that. The Hawks won their first two games at home, split their next two games on the road, and capitalized on home-ice advantage to eliminate the Wild in Game 5.
Before heading to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4, nobody in the Hawks’ locker room would have admitted that he would be OK with losing one of two games on the road.
Yet after Thursday’s come-from-behind win prevented a two-game slide and a series deadlock, Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson spoke like a happy thief.
“That was our goal here – to try to steal one, at least,” Hjalmarsson said. “We knew it was going to be tough to win both games here. …
“We got the job done. That’s what matters.”
Another job remains for the Hawks.
Don’t let the Kings beat you in the same way that beat the Wings.
“To come back the way we did, it could happen to anybody,” Bickell said. “We need to be focused and be ready.”
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.