CHICAGO — Jonathan Toews knows the playoffs can be a roller-coaster ride of emotions.
“One day you win a game in the first round and you get that feeling that you’re going all the way to the Cup and nothing can stop you,” the Chicago Blackhawks captain said. “The next day you lose and all of a sudden that thought crosses your mind that I guess it’s better luck next year.”
The Blackhawks are so seasoned to those ups and downs that they don’t appear to be fazed by their 2-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Chicago faced the same deficit in the last round against Anaheim and in the 2013 Cup final against Boston. This is the point in a series where it gets real.
Since Joel Quenneville took over as coach, the Blackhawks are 30-30 in Games 1-3 but are an incredible 40-14 in Games 4-7. It’s a major reason they have won the Cup twice in that span and feel confident they can do it a third time.
“I think we play our best games when our backs are up against the wall,” defenceman Brent Seabrook said. “It’s just for whatever reason (we know) we’ve got to come out and play the best game of our lives.”
The next opportunity for that is in Game 4 on Wednesday night at United Center, against a visiting Lightning team looking for its ninth victory of the playoffs.
Quenneville credited the team’s leaders — Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp among them — for being “competitive as heck” and improving as the series goes along. Their example trickles down to the rest of the Blackhawks.
Where it comes from might be doing it so many times before. Quenneville wants his team to be angry about losing Games 2 and 3 but channel that emotion with a purpose.
“We’ve had some history of being in situations where we’ve been in the exact same spot,” he said. “I’m worried about one game. And we haven’t seen our best yet.”
The Blackhawks’ best scorers have been silent. Neither Kane nor Toews has scored against the Lightning so far, but given the captain’s strong Game 3 it might be a matter of time.
This is, after all, the turning point in a series where those stars turn it on.
“Obviously we don’t draw it up in some situations when we get down in a series, it’s not part of the plan,” Toews said. “But I think we have confidence when we get in those situations that we can take it one game at a time, focus on the next game, continue to put pressure on the other team.”
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press