Hockey / Sports

Blackhawks, Kings embrace high-stakes games

The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have been asked repeatedly throughout the Western Conference finals to pin the burden of pressure on the other team.

The only thing is, there probably aren't two NHL teams that embrace anxiety-wracked games as an exciting invitation more than the Kings and Hawks, who skate into the United Center for Sunday's Game 7.

"Both teams are good when it comes down to big games," Niklas Hjalmarsson said Saturday. "So it's going to be the toughest game to win. We can't relax. Both teams are pretty equal in those situations. It's the best-of-one game and the winner goes to the (Stanley Cup) Final. It's pretty exciting."

These are teams that blossom instead of wilt under the scorching spotlight.

The Kings have reached the brink of the Stanley Cup Final by winning two previous series' Game 7s on the road and are 6-0 in this season's playoffs in elimination games.

The Blackhawks are 11-0 in Games 5, 6 and 7 in the last two seasons. They stormed back in the second round from a 3-1 deficit last season to beat the Red Wings en route to winning the Stanley Cup. They would be the first NHL team to clear that hurdle in consecutive seasons if they can pull off one more victory against the Kings.

The only team in playoff history to win a conference finals series after trailing 3-1 was the 2000 Devils.

"We have competitive guys," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "They find a way. They want to win."

The Hawks fell into a 3-1 hole against the Kings but have tied the series by winning consecutive games with third-period comebacks.

"I think this series deserves a Game 7," Hjalmarsson said. "I think that the crowd deserves it too. I think it's going to be a great finish to a great series. Hopefully we'll be the winner."

Either team would place itself among the elite with a victory. The Hawks would be going for back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. The Kings could go on to attempt winning the title in two of the last three seasons.

But first things first.

Games 5 and 6 featured five lead changes, 16 goals and 143 shots between the teams. With better timing than a magician, Patrick Kane has sparked the Hawks to back-to-back third-period comebacks to stave off elimination.

The thrill of the series isn't lost on the Hawks.

"The quality of the hockey has been fun to watch," Quenneville said. "It's been fun to be a part of it."

Only one team has beaten the Blackhawks at the United Center during the playoffs, and that's the Kings.

Feeling the pressure or not, the Hawks say they're ready.

"You can feel it's a high level of hockey," Hjalmarsson said. "(The Kings) bringing it every game. They're a machine-like team. They bring the same effort every single game. We just have to try to match that."

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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