The Chicago Blackhawks have responded well to adversity over the last few years, and this kind of experience in the NHL playoffs is one reason why the Original Six club was able to advance to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins.
But after being shut out 2-0 in Monday's Game 3, as the Bruins took a 2-1 series lead, with Game 4 to be played in Boston on Wednesday, this Blackhawks team is about to face its biggest challenge of the season.
A loss in Game 4 would put Chicago in a 3-1 hole and give Boston three opportunities to clinch the series.
The Blackhawks overcame a 3-1 deficit in the second round against the Detroit Red Wings, but the Bruins present more difficult challenges than Chicago's Central Division rival. The Red Wings were a strong opponent, but Boston has more depth, a better blue line and superior goaltending.
"I think they’re a little bit of a different team than Detroit was," said Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford. "They’re able to sit back and wait for us to collapse defensively. You can’t block everything. But we made some plays, we had some good shots and had a couple of the chances that went just wide. We’ve got to keep playing hard."
The Blackhawks don't have many more opportunities to improve and win games before it's too late. They must come into Game 4 with the mindset that a team has when facing elimination.
"I don’t know, there’s time running out," said defenseman Duncan Keith. "We’ve got to get a goal. I think we just have to come out with a big game next game and find a way to get a win. We’ve been through some tough situations, but we know that we’ve got to have our best game of the year next game."
Completing a historic comeback down 3-1 is improbable for a number of reasons, the most notable one being the slim chance of the Blackhawks being able to beat Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask three consecutive times.
The 26-year-old leads the playoffs in wins (14), save percentage (.946), GAA (1.64), shutouts (three) and saves (617). In the Cup final, he has given up only one goal in his last two starts and became just the second goaltender to shut out the Blackhawks this season with his victory in Game 3. His shutout streak is currently at 122:26.
"He's been focused since day one of the playoffs. You watch him on off days, you watch him, he's quiet, focused, calm," said Bruins head coach Claude Julien after Game 2.
"Right now, all his energy is put towards his game, how he needs to get his rest, relax. When the game starts, he's a focused individual. Like I said, I've never seen a guy so calm, obviously confident with the way he's played. Probably the quietest I've seen him so far, but in a good way."
Beating Rask in three straight games is difficult in itself, but a defeat on Wednesday would also force the Blackhawks to win a game at TD Garden, a place where the Bruins are 8-2 in the playoffs and haven't given up a goal since the first period of Game 5 in the second round.
Boston has won six consecutive games on home ice, including four straight victories in the Cup final at TD Garden dating back to 2011.
The Blackhawks need something to spark them and instill some confidence in the team, whether it's a power-play goal, a dominating period similar to the first 20 minutes of Game 2 or a moment of brilliance from Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane.
Chicago lacked energy on Monday and played without the level of intensity and determination expected from a team that was losing control of the series. This has to change for the momentum in the Cup final to shift back in the Blackhawks' favor.
The Bruins are playing with a ton of confidence and can almost taste their second Stanley Cup title in three years. This is a veteran team that understands the importance of Game 4 and what a win would mean for its chances of becoming champions.
Another Blackhawks loss would put them in an insurmountable hole, making Wednesday's matchup at TD Garden a must-win situation for the Original Six club. It's now or never for the Presidents' Trophy winners.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. All quotes obtained firsthand.
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