On the brink, Blackhawks dig deep again
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Apparently, this Blackhawks team has to feel the desperation before it can play with desperation.
The Hawks were down 3-1 in the series and facing elimination before they played their best game of the postseason Saturday at home.
And they were down to their final 20 minutes Monday night in Game 6, trailing by a goal on the road, when they went to the dressing room and looked around, wondering who was going to step up and save the season.
"You definitely get emotional in that situation," said captain Jonathan Toews. "It's do or die and you know your season might be over.
"We just know we have a special group here and we don't want to pass that up. It's a great opportunity we have this year and we wanted to give it everything we had there."
Turns out, they did.
After a terrible second period, during which you had to wonder if they fully understood their predicament while missing the effort necessary to stay alive, the Hawks came out and scored 3 goals in the first 9:43 of the third to take a 2-goal lead and then hung on defeat Detroit 4-3 at Joe Louis Arena, forcing a Game 7 at home Wednesday.
"Their focus was certainly that we were going to find a way," said coach Joel Quenneville. "Obviously, scoring early helps."
The goal to tie the game came only 51 seconds into the third when Niklas Hjalmarsson pinched 40 feet inside the Detroit zone and came up with the puck. He found Michal Handzus on the side of Jimmy Howard, who came out to play the shot.
But Handzus showed great patience, waited for Howard to go down and then flipped it past him far side just inside the post, and the Hawks had new life.
"It was very positive between periods," said Bryan Bickell. "I know going out on the ice we had a spark and we knew we could do it. We got the first one and just carried on from there."
The biggest play of the year might have come from Marian Hossa five minutes later when he won a puck battle in the corner against two Red Wings. It hasn't been a great series for Hossa, but it was huge when he gave the puck to Toews, who threw it at the cage where Bickell shoveled it home into an empty net for the go-ahead goal.
Bickell, who's due to be an unrestricted free agent, has 5 goals in 11 postseason games after scoring nine times in 48 regular-season games.
"I'll take the greasy ones," Bickell said. "It's a great feeling."
The feeling got better when Michael Frolik blocked a shot and raced the other way on a break, but a slash earned him a penalty shot, and Frolik became the first player in NHL history with two postseason penalty-shot goals.
He faked to his forehand and beat a leaning Howard with a backhand, a different move from the one that undressed Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider two years ago, causing Schneider to tear a groin.
"I was going to use that move, but I got slashed," Frolik said. "I used the only other one I have. I don't have many."
Well, that one was awfully good and turned out to be the game-winner when Detroit scored late to cut it to one.
"We made some young mistakes in the third period and they wound up in our net," said Wings coach Mike Babcock. "In the end, we didn't handle the pressure."
The huge third period caused the Red Wings to fall apart, looking much like the Hawks did early in the series when the Detroit pressure forced bad penalties and a lack of composure.
It also bailed out Corey Crawford, who looked shaky from the start Monday and let in a terrible goal on a knuckle ball from 40 feet in the second that gave the Wings a 2-1 lead.
"Being down in the third, we owed it to him. He's been so good for us all year," Bickell said of Crawford. "We knew there was no tomorrow if we didn't pull it off."
There truly is a tomorrow now for the Hawks, who are looking to become just the 21st team in 230 attempts to rebound from a 3-1 series deficit and advance to the next round.
Either way, the Hawks have forced a Game 7 in the NHL postseason, which remains the greatest spectacle in sports.
There is simply nothing that compares to the pressure, the atmosphere and the consequences.
And it's coming Wednesday to a hockey rink near you.
•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.
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