All of the despair and doom and gloom was ever present when the Chicago Blackhawks went down 3-1 in their first round series with the St. Louis Blues. It felt like that hopeful playoff switch just wasn't there this time but of course as they always do, these Hawks wouldn't go down without a fight. As they have in all of their previous game seven appearances, the Hawks have rallied effectively and given themselves a shot at a new kind of history.
It's just their nature. And it seems like each game seven played in the Toews and Kane era has marked something of incredibly weird significance. History tells us we'll see something remarkable again Monday night.
In 2011, with a shell of a team due to the salary cap, they stormed back from a 3-0 playoff deficit to the eventual Western Conference champion, Canucks. One could have forgiven them for folding, but something was different about this core. They of course lost in game seven but not for lack of trying. If not for Patrick Sharp hitting a post and Chris Campoli offering up an awful turnover in overtime, that story ends differently. This loss didn't seem to hurt as much as I thought it would. I think I'm not alone in saying that for a team that had so much personnel turnover in the offseason, that it was more a sense of pride that this team didn't go down at first glance to an eventual conference champion. They simply wouldn't let it happen and showed a glimpse of the future to come.
As the favorite in 2013, a 3-1 series deficit to the rival Detroit Red Wings wasn't ideal. The long time hated rivals were going to snatch away a championship opportunity from right under the Blackhawks. For all of the adversity and bad bounces in that series up to that point, no one was sure whether the Hawks would punch back. Of course, they did, emphatically in fact, culminating in an epic game seven that saw a Niklas Hjalmarsson would be series winning goal wiped out because of a questionable roughing call in the final moments. The Blackhawks won game seven twice that night as people like to famously say once Brent Seabrook put in a wrister in overtime. Elation and relief came over me as it seemed nothing could top such a victory, over a rival. That team went on to obviously win the Stanley Cup, but it couldn't have come without that scare that made it so sweet.
The Los Angeles Kings were putting a beat down on Chicago in the 2014 Western Conference Finals. There wasn't a doubt about it. A rematch of the previous season's third round saw the Kings landing haymaker after haymaker in gathering another 3-1 series lead. But those Blackhawks had different plans in mind. They would win the next two games and if not for an awful bounce off of Nick Leddy in overtime in quite possibly the best game seven in recent memory, we're talking repeat. I remember the pure devastation I felt as soon as the puck bounced in. It was a numbing and nagging awful feeling in which I'm sure I wasn't alone. No doubt fans will forever remember this lost opportunity as I'm sure it dwelled on the players in how it reflected the mission in 2015.
All events with the Ducks in last year's Western Conference Finals felt preordained by that loss to the Kings. Another classic series through and through was given to us and even after Anaheim took a 3-2 series lead, you just knew Chicago had one last counter punch. After losing game five in Anaheim, they hit that extra gear, and absolutely dominated series play from then on out winning games six and seven each rather comfortably. It was a testament to their resilience and memory of pain from a year before. They wouldn't let another championship opportunity slip through their fingers so easily.
It's been on display constantly that this team lives for these kinds of moments.
Toews, Kane, and the whole bunch seem to have made high level performances in these games routine, only adding to their legend. If you had to pick someone to be a hero against St. Louis, it wouldn't be a bad idea to pick Toews. A man with four goals in these kinds of contests, including a shorthanded goal to force overtime against Vancouver and two back breaking tone setting goals against the Ducks, just has that killer instinct to lead his team through the moment.
Maybe Chicago is so successful because of leadership from their captain. Maybe the team is so resilient because of a collective belief within the group. It all sounds so cliche but it's true. How can we deny this fact after seeing them rally time and again? Prior experiences tell us we're in for a treat Monday night and that they're not ready yet to let this opportunity slip through their hands as well.
Much has been made of whether this team has enough to win a Stanley Cup. Who knows. They possibly may fall in the second round due to a lack of defensive depth and all of this is moot or they may persevere through a flawed playoff field for another Cup. The only way to answer that question is to win tonight. Continue this long winding road. Don't allow for anyone to look back at what could've been. A loss in St. Louis doesn't change the franchise direction. The Hawks will be back in a big way regardless. Their generational talents won't let them do otherwise. But they can't leave a doubt here. Not like this.
Game seven means a lot to where the Blues are heading in the future but it's also about the Hawks, just in a different way. The Blues seemingly are just trying to do everything in their power not to choke it away. That's what their prior playoff history of failure tells them. That doubt probably sits in the back of their minds. Chicago on the other hand, is ready for another dramatic moment, as they always are.
While I'm hyperventilating and stressing out of my mind, you'll see a calm cool within them to make the most of it. To make history and make another lasting memory.
The Hawks just aren't quite ready for this ride to be over.
Robert Zeglinski is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.