CHICAGO (MCT) — The anesthetizing six-hour flight delay in returning to the Midwest aside, there was no place the Blackhawks would rather be when their loafers hit the tarmac on Sunday evening, still alive and turbo-boosted into a Game 6 against the Coyotes in their Western Conference quarterfinal series.
“You can kind of imagine the feeling they have right now,” captain Jonathan Toews said of the Coyotes. “They didn’t want to come back to Chicago. They wanted to end the series right there.”
The only issue with that, the one that may determine if the Hawks’ season lasts beyond Monday: Is being there or here neither here nor there?
The Hawks have a fine record at the United Center this season. The Coyotes have a better record at the United Center this season: One of the league’s best road units is undefeated in four tries in the building after sweeping Games 3 and 4 last week.
It may be that a taut-as-a-rope performance in a 2-1 overtime victory Saturday demonstrated the Hawks settled on a formula for dealing with the Coyotes’ solid, patient system. It may be that five overtime games mean no one has figured anything out, that it’s anyone’s game any night.
The Hawks unearthed some momentum. Now they need a home remedy.
“We said (Saturday) night, hey, it’s a huge game,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “You go back home, there’s a lot of excitement going into that game and who knows what happens. We did a great job, I thought, (Saturday) night. We got momentum going into home. We didn’t take advantage of it last time. We’re looking to do it this time.”
With a 20-14-7 record on the road during the regular season, the Coyotes were the league’s ninth-best team away from home. It makes sense, given their pervasive discipline and staunch goaltending. They don’t go for the fireworks show, so they always give themselves a chance.
“You’ve seen it every game, especially in Game 5, they’ll just kind of wait for one chance or an odd-man break where they can make a huge difference in the game,” Toews said.
“For the most part, we dictated that game and we worked hard for our chances and not everything went in. That’s kind of the same style they play on the road and they did that well against us in Game 3 and Game 4. This time, we have to push it over the edge.”
The Hawks have a mere eight goals in the four United Center meetings with the Coyotes. But persistence and patience remains the key.
“(Quenneville) has been talking about that the whole series — keep getting pucks on the net,” said defenseman Nick Leddy, who benefited from that approach with the tying goal in Game 5. “It doesn’t have to be a great shot. It can be bad-angle shot, and things can happen.”
Not enough of them have against the Coyotes on the West Side this season. If the Hawks get home fried, they don’t get a tomorrow.
“The games are all so tight,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “It doesn’t really matter where you play. It’s going to come down to who can actually make a good play at the right time.”