Hawks don't blink after two losses
Have no fear, Chicago fans, because your team doesn't.
PHILADELPHIA -- It was midway through a scoreless second period Friday night with the Philadelphia Flyers holding a 3-1 lead over the Blackhawks in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals when total resignation reared its hopeless head.
I'm a hawks fan, but I think this series is over. The Flyers are getting all the breaks, loose pucks and totally taking Chicago out of their game.
Call it your basic chat room anxiety or the angst of a Chicago sports fan. As message boards all but smoldered with the passions of hockey fans that were exultant, angry, boastful and depressed, the Hawks rallied in the third period to narrow the Flyers' lead to 4-3.
In the dressing room after the eventual 5-3 loss, the Hawks were a team that did not mirror the apparent panic back home.
"It's a good wake-up call for us," said Hawks winger Andrew Ladd, playing in his first game of the Stanley Cup finals after injuring his arm in the last game of the conference finals. "This team has done well when coming back from adversity and having to deal with tough situations, so we're confident that we can play the right way the next game and get back to where we want to be."
Here are a few positives for Hawks fans with their toes on the ledge:
• The Hawks have never played well in Philadelphia, with a losing streak that now stands at 10 (eight in the regular season, two in the playoffs).
What about Game 6 back at the Wachovia Center next Wednesday, you say?
"We're not looking to Game 6 or 7," Jonathan Toews said. "We're looking to the next one. We're happy about going back to our own building, and we want to get a win on our home soil and then come back here and do better than we did the last two games."
• Toews. He still hasn't scored in the finals, but he maintained his dominance in the faceoff circle by winning 24 of 33 draws. That has to pay off eventually, no?
• The Hawks lost consecutive games for the first time in the playoffs after going 4-0 and outscoring opponents 14-3 following a loss. The odds are against a third-straight defeat.
• Despite a costly first period, the Hawks held the Flyers without a shot for 10:13 while taking six themselves.
• You have to figure the Hawks are due for a better shake from officials at home.
• The third period. The Hawks finally scored on a power play. They made a game of it. They finally outhit the Flyers, 11-9.
"If we can carry that into the next game, that's the level we have to play at and we have to skate at," Ladd said. "It's a necessity at this point."
Regardless of the urgency the Hawks may have built up at the end of Friday's loss, the Flyers seem to be in their element. It was odd how Flyers coach Peter Laviolette kept talking about his team feeling "comfortable" down 2-0 to start the series, as if that was part of its strategy. But it seems he was right, and his players were toughened after coming back from a 3-0 deficit to the Boston Bruins in the semifinals as compared to the Hawks sweep of the San Jose Sharks.
Does that swing back in the Hawks' favor as the pressure shifts squarely back on them?
"I think it's just a matter of being composed. That's the biggest thing," said Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith, who assisted on each of his team's three goals Friday and went so far as to say he and his teammates were enjoying themselves. "It's been a great series so far, it's been a battle and it's been a lot of fun. We've tried all year to get home ice, and now let's use that to our advantage."
Though the Hawks had been better on the road, coming into the finals with a seven-game winning streak, holding the home-ice advantage is a comfort.
"That's what you work for in the regular season, and it definitely comes in handy during the playoffs," Ladd said. "I know firsthand from playing in Carolina, it came in very handy, especially in Game 7. We're looking forward to going back to Chicago and having a good effort."
Despite the dread of Hawks fans, players did not appear particularly panicked after Friday night's game. They spoke of knowing it was going to be a tough series and feeling perfectly confident in their ability to ultimately triumph over the Flyers.
"It's still 2-2," said Hawks' defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who should have felt as deflated as anyone after two key giveaways in the first period led to Philadelphia goals but was not. "It sounds like the series is over. No, it's still 2-2. We still have home advantage. We're still in a great spot. So we're just looking forward to the next game."
So despair if you must, Hawks fans. Your team is not dead yet.
"We have to take the positives," Brent Sopel said. "It's over. It's done with. We didn't do what we wanted to do, it's a best of three now.
"We're upset, but we have to clear our minds. There's nothing we can do ... We have to focus now."
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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