Hockey / Sports

Blackhawks brace for fight of their season in Game 6

CHICAGO -- The Blackhawks have the Wild right where they want them -- which leads the defending Stanley Cup champions to believe they're about to face the fight of their season.

"You don't want to have a hockey player backed into a corner," Hawks defenseman Johnny Oduya said Monday before boarding a charter to St. Paul, Minn., for Game 6 of the second-round series. "That's when they're at their best."

With a 3-2 series advantage, the Hawks can advance to the Western Conference finals with a victory Tuesday night at the Xcel Energy Center. Easier said than done against the upstart Wild, who rallied from a similar deficit against the Avalanche in the first round to advance and have given the Hawks all they can handle in Round 2.

"I think we know what they're doing (and) they know pretty much what we're doing too," Oduya said. "I think it's just a matter of will and who wants to win the most, who's fresher and who feels better."

When it comes to elimination games, the Hawks usually feel better when the final horn sounds. Since Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane joined the team for the 2007-08 season, the Hawks are 11-2 in clinchers, including a 5-1 mark on the road. With their 2-1 victory over the Wild in Game 5 on Sunday night at the United Center, the Hawks are 14-2 in Games 4-7 of series since the start of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.

"We have a lot of characters in the room that are good in important games, who step up and play their best hockey in games like that," Oduya said. "A lot of good leaders and other guys have been around, have experience. A lot of nerves come in, either (when) it's overtime or late in the periods in key situations. That's something that's needed."

Added winger Bryan Bickell: "The experience that everyone's had, the situations that people have been in before, (we) can relate to what kind of situation we're in now. To do exactly whatever it takes to (clinch) this series is one of the hardest things in any series. But I feel we have the confidence and the poise and the relaxation that we don't get ahead of ourselves and just play shift by shift."

That drive to put away opponents starts with the leadership of coach Joel Quenneville, captain Jonathan Toews and the veterans who have been here before.

"I commend the guys on their focus and preparation," Quenneville said. "They welcome the challenge. The bigger the setting (and) the bigger the stage, they seem to rise to that challenge. We've been through some here through the years, (which) has helped, particularly our leaders, help send that message to everyone."

The Wild realize the Hawks will do everything in their power to prevent the series from returning to Chicago for Game 7, where any kind of strange bounce can spell the end of their quest for a second consecutive Stanley Cup.

"We're going to go out and play as hard we can," Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. "We know they're going to bring it. They're a winning team. They know what's at stake and we know they're going to come hard.

"I think we like the challenge. We always seem to make things harder than they need to be. ... We'd be up three or four goals, then let the other team back in it. That's how it's been, that's how it is now and (Tuesday night) is do-or-die."

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