Commentary

The Young and the Breathless

Updated: May 12, 2009, 6:54 PM ET
By Jerry Bonkowski | ESPNChicago.com

Having the youngest team in the league, the Blackhawks have been called everything from overachievers to unbelievable this season.

This is a team that not only doesn't know how to quit; it also doesn't know that by typical hockey standards, a bunch of youngsters isn't supposed to be playing this well.

With 10 playoff games in the books thus far -- six versus Calgary and four against Vancouver -- the youthful Hawks have become the NHL's version of the Comeback Kids.

They had to rally from behind in four of the six games versus Calgary before advancing to the second round. The Hawks have spotted Vancouver early leads in each of the series' first four games, only to rally back to tie things up in each game. They've gone on to win two of those contests, including Thursday's 2-1 overtime win at the United Center.

"Sometimes you come back with a happy ending and sometimes it doesn't work out always," said Hawks right winger Martin Havlat, who scored the game-tying goal on Thursday. "It's not a thing that we want to do every night, to be scored on and to have to come back from behind."

Perhaps more so than any other game this season, Thursday's was the team's most inspiring and important comeback.

"Yep, tonight and the second game in Vancouver [which the Hawks also won] were huge," said left winger Andrew Ladd, who scored the game-winning goal Thursday. "We have a lot of character in this room and have a lot of guys that never give up."

That speaks volumes about just how well this team has played thus far in the playoffs, particularly against a veteran team like the Canucks.

"We're a confident group in here and I think that helps us going forward -- getting that win and knowing that if we stick with our game plan, it can work out," Ladd said.

Each additional success that the Blackhawks achieve from here on out will be yet another bonus, with the knowledge that as good as they've played this season, they have the potential to be even stronger and more dangerous next season.

Yet, while others may be surprised at how far the Hawks have come, don't count coach Joel Quenneville in that group. He says they have a vast wealth of talent that transcends what is typically expected of a young team.

"There's a lot of skill in there," Quenneville said. "[There is] speed and excitement within the group and I think they believe in each other -- that we're capable of finding ways to win."

That has been particularly evident in the playoffs. The Hawks took a 2-0 lead versus Calgary in the first-round series, only to have the Flames tie things up at 2-2 before the Hawks advanced to the next round with two more wins.

It's the same with the current series versus Vancouver. Each team has earned a win at home and on the road thus far.

"We wanted to make this a long series," Quenneville said. "That was the objective and goal, and now that it is [a long series], I just think our approach going into the games and our energy level is not going anywhere but up."

Not only have the Hawks turned into a come-from-behind juggernaut, but Thursday's inspiring finish could become the team's rallying cry from here on out.

"There's always a defining moment in series and games during the season and in the playoffs, and hopefully that can be something we can maybe hold our hat on," Quenneville said. "But at the same time, we shouldn't be satisfied with anything that took place [Thursday night].

"The challenge going forward is even higher, tougher and more challenging. I think there's some confidence you can gain, but we're going into a tough building and we know we have a tough game to play. Let's bring it, but let's channel it properly."

At the same time, Quenneville would just like to know what it feels like to have his team score first against the Canucks, who have netted the first goal in each game of the series.

"I guess we're accustomed to playing in this situation, but it's not healthy and it's not the right way for success," Quenneville said. "I'd like to find out what we're going to be like playing with the lead, but four games in a row, I think we're due."

The last thing the Hawks wanted was to head back to Vancouver down 3-1 in the series, giving the Canucks a chance to clinch Saturday night on their home ice.

"We knew it was a big game; Game 4 is always the big sway game," Ladd said. "We didn't want to go to Vancouver down 3-1, and now we feel like we have a little momentum and we can try to use that in the next game."

That seems to be the consensus throughout the team. Instead of thinking of Saturday as Game 5 of the current series, the Hawks feel they've advanced to the next round, of sorts, one that has suddenly become a brand new, best-of-three, winner-take-all series.

"It'd be much different if we were down 3-1 and going back to Vancouver," Havlat said. "It's tough to win three in a row. Right now, we have a whole new series right here."

Jerry Bonkowski | email

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Award-winning sportswriting veteran Jerry Bonkowski returns to ESPN, having previously served as NASCAR columnist/writer for ESPN.com from 2001 to 2004. A lifelong Chicago native, Jerry spent 15 years with USA Today, where he covered all sports -- with heavy emphasis on Chicago-area teams -- and the past 4½ years as National NASCAR Columnist with Yahoo! Sports.