CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks were sequestered in their dressing room Tuesday afternoon while the United Center bustled with activity in preparation for a Rolling Stones concert a few hours later.
While the stage was being assembled for the World’s Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band, the one for Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Blackhawks and Red Wings already was set.
In their final meeting as conference rivals with the NHL realigning next season, the Blackhawks and Red Wings will go out in style with a showdown to determine who will advance to the conference finals and a chance to play for a Stanley Cup Finals berth.
After falling behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, the Blackhawks have rebounded with consecutive victories to set up the drama Wednesday night.
“You have to feel better about yourself coming off two wins, but at the same time, we’re keeping our feet on the ground the same way we did when we were down 3-1,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We’re excited about the way we played in the last couple of games. We feel like we deserve to be where we are. We have a great chance to win the series in Game 7 at home.”
The Blackhawks are the 49th team to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-1. Of those, 24 won the seventh game. One of those teams was the 2011 Blackhawks, who roared back from a 3-0 deficit against the Canucks only to lose Game 7 in overtime.
“We turned this around being down 3-1,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “We’ve been playing Game 7-types of games now the last two games and we’ve been doing it pretty well. It’s all for nothing if we can’t win the next game. ... I love to play those types of games.”
Added Toews: “There’s something about playing a Game 7 that you want to go out there and feel like every shift, every chance you get, there might be an opportunity to change the game in favor of your team and you’re ready for that.”
The Red Wings went the distance in their first-round series against the Ducks.
“These Game 7s are fun,” Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “You definitely see what you’re made of. That place is going to be loud for Game 7. So we’ll enjoy the national anthem and just get ready to play.
“[You] just relax and take a deep breath. The season’s down to one game, and we’ve got to go out there and execute.”
It will be the third time in their 87-year rivalry the Blackhawks and Red Wings meet in a Game 7 and the first since April 15, 1965, when Chicago won 4-2 at Olympia Stadium in Detroit in a semifinal series.
After a roller-coaster series that has seen both teams seize momentum, it’s arguable which faces the most pressure.
“There’s pressure on both teams,” Toews said. “Most of that pressure comes from within. You want to win for yourself [and] for the guys next to you.
“It was no breeze getting to this point. Even though it was a shortened season, every guy in this room, whether they play every night or the guys who sacrifice their playing time and get scratched, we have a lot of great individuals who have paid the price to get here. That’s where the pressure comes from. We want to win for each other. That’s what matters most.”