By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) — At long last, Game 7.
Really, the Blackhawks and Ducks seemed destined for this. An incredible, evenly matched, all-time classic of a series will reach its end Saturday in Anaheim. One final game will decide the Western Conference Final. Each goal, swing and all of those overtimes has led to one last contest between these two titans.
Back at home on Wednesday night, Chicago blew by Anaheim for a 5-2 win in Game 6. Duncan Keith assisted on three goals in 3:45, Andrew Shaw capped it with two more scores and a soldout United Center celebrated. With a season at stake, the Blackhawks showed their character.
“When we realize our season is on the line — we kind of think back to everything that went into us getting to this point, we realize the opportunity we have and the group that we have, throw everything into the mix — that’s your motivation right there to throw everything at them,” said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, offering his glare that shoots lasers through a room.
The Blackhawks played Game 6 like it was Game 7. They dominated in the faceoff circle (33-17), were aggressive with stretch passes and created their own scoring chances with rushes at Ducks’ netminder Frederik Andersen. Coach Joel Quenneville even paired Toews and Patrick Kane on the top line from the first period on — a sign of Chicago’s desperation mode.
Chelsea Dagger played on repeat as the raucous crowd celebrated. There would be no presentation of the Clarence S. Campbell Trophy for the Ducks in Chicago, and now the Blackhawks are a win away from grabbing it in Anaheim.
It all comes down to a Game 7.
“The finality to it is what stands out,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. “One group is going to go home and one group is going to play for the Stanley Cup. There’s not a lot you can leave on the table. There’s no playing for tomorrow or whatever cliché you want to use.”
Added Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell: “Do or die.”
Motivation is intrinsic when it comes to these Stanley Cup Playoffs. The opportunity to hoist that 34-and-a-half-pound chalice is rare in hockey. That’s all players need to play each shift like it’s their last.
Just 363 days ago, the Blackhawks saw their season end in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. The Kings’ Alec Martinez deflected a puck off Nick Leddy and past Corey Crawford. That Chicago team could’ve won its third title in five years had that puck bounced a different direction.
“Toughest loss of our lives,” Quenneville said. “That’s what we’ll take of it.”
Hockey is an inherently random game, which is what makes these playoffs so compelling. From the perspective of fans, it’s nerve-racking to the highest degree.
One bizarre turn can win a championship — see Kane’s odd-angled goal to win the Cup in 2010 — or end a season, like the Blackhawks experienced in the devastating Game 7 loss of 2014.
The stakes reach their highest point when an all-time series reaches its final moments. The winner of Game 7 in Anaheim moves on for a chance to win Lord Stanley’s prize.
“Pressure? There’s no pressure,” Crawford said. “It’s excitement — excitement for a chance to get to the Stanley Cup Final. That’s it.”
After that, Crawford walked away from his locker. Nothing more needed to be said, because the rare opportunity to hoist that Cup is on the line.
California, here they come. Game 7 will be something special.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.