CHICAGO – In the wee hours Thursday, just beneath his champion mustache, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville might have cracked a smile.
In fact, yes. I’m certain it was a smile.
Quenneville was discussing his team’s Western Conference quarterfinal series against the St. Louis Blues, and the corners of his lips curled upward in satisfaction. The clock already had marched past midnight and Quenneville probably wouldn’t pull into his driveway until 2 a.m. – oh, and he had to catch a plane the next day – but he was as happy as could be, the goal light of his heart beaming bright.
“Can’t say enough,” Quenneville said, “about how competitive it’s been in the four games: the battles, the resiliency and the will.”
It’s not over. It’s just beginning.
The Hawks will visit the Blues tonight for Game 5 of a terrific first-round series. The winner will grab a 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6 on Sunday at the United Center, while the loser will inch perilously close to a long, unwanted vacation.
Think about this. Entering Thursday’s action, the NHL playoffs had included nine overtime games. One-third of those had come from a single series: Hawks vs. Blues.
If you include the end of the regular season, five of the Hawks’ past 10 games have gone to overtime. If you include 2013, seven of their past 11 playoff games have gone to overtime, including three to double overtime and two to triple overtime.
If tonight’s game increases the playoff overtime tally to four out of the past five and eight out of the past 12, will anybody be surprised?
Not the Hawks, that’s for sure.
In the 15-minute intermission between the end of the third period and the start of overtime in Game 4, the doors to the Hawks’ locker room remained shut. Tens of thousands of fans waited in the stadium and hundreds of thousands waited in front of their TV sets, but the locker room was restricted to a few dozen players.
Was it silent? Were there speeches? What was said?
“We’re going, ‘We’re doing this again?’ ” Hawks forward Bryan Bickell said with a toothless smile and a hearty Canadian laugh.
In other words, no big speeches. No big anything, really. A pressure-filled overtime period was nothing new to the Hawks, and the calm atmosphere of the locker room reflected their new normal.
“It’s pretty much the same as before any other period,” Hawks defenseman Michal Rozsival said. “We’re just trying to focus on the goals that we set before the game. You don’t really want to change anything just because you’re going to overtime.”
Instead, the Hawks rested and waited for their latest overtime to start.
Already, the Hawks have played 298 minutes in their series against the Blues. The puck has dropped on 17 periods in four games. And now it’s a best-of-three series.
No big speeches. Only big hearts.
“They’re the same way,” Bickell said. “They’ve come back twice in the first three games, and I think we have the same character. Do or die.”
Maybe that explained the gruff coach’s grin as he spoke glowingly about the battles, the resiliency and the will.
“I don’t expect that to change,” Quenneville said. “Sets up for a great Game 5.”
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.