CHICAGO | The Blackhawks don’t especially like game sevens.
Other than the stirring comeback from a 3-1 deficit against the Detroit Red Wings last season, the Hawks have not had to really go the limit in their Stanley Cup playoff runs in 2010 and 2013.
So when they face the St. Louis Blues in Sunday's Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals at the United Center, the Hawks will be extra-motivated to close out the series and avoid another trip back to Scottrade Center. Anything can happen in a Game 7, especially with a desperate, envious Blues team trying to avoid a playoff collapse for the second year in a row.
“We don’t want to go back to St. Louis,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said Saturday after winning Friday's Game 5 in overtime on the road. ”We’re going try to do everything we can to finish it off. Hopefully (Sunday) we can really just release the hand brake and go full force.”
Said winger Bryan Bickell: “Take away the home ice and have the momentum in our hands is huge. We have a good opportunity (Sunday) to finish the series. We’re amped up. Our fans are amped up. It’s the biggest game of the year.”
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville knows the tenor of this team. Up 3-2 after losing the first two games in overtime in St. Louis, they have two championship seasons worth of experience in nailing down series.
“We’re a competitive bunch,” Quenneville said. “We’ve a proud bunch. We find ways to overcome adversity.
“I think they get excited in that situation,” he said of series-clinching games.
The one last missing piece will return to the ice today. Defenseman Brent Seabrook comes back after a three-game suspension for the knockout hit on Blues caption David Backes late in Game 2.
Seabrook was not made available by the Hawks for comment Saturday. So his teammates were left to describe the impact he provides.
“He’s a huge part of our hockey team,” winger Marian Hossa said. “It’s going to be great for our defense.”
The veteran blueliners have had to play increased minutes in Seabrook’s absence, so his return will provide some especially welcome relief.
“’Seabs’ is one of the steadiest ‘D’ men I think in this league," Hjalmarsson said. "Pretty underrated, too. You don’t hear him too much around the Norris Trophy talks. What he brings to our team every night is huge. It’s obviously going to be good to get him back.”
Even without Seabrook, the Hawks’ defense held relatively firm against the Blues in the three straight wins. The only slip up was three unanswered goals in the second and third periods of Game 4. After the Blues took a 3-2 lead Wednesday, the Hawks were able to clamp down and hold serve until Patrick Kane scored the game-winner in overtime.
Ditto with Game 5 Friday, the defense was good enough to keep the Blues at bay until Jonathan Toews tallied the overtime clincher.
“We’ve tied together defense and offense,” Hossa said. “We don’t have the gap between us so they can go between us. That has improved. Our ‘D’ are standing up more. And our forwards are coming back harder. There’s not that gap so they are going through us.”