Two weeks ago, it looked the Chicago Blackhawks' magical season was destined to end prematurely.
The same team that had been the toast of the regular season found itself down 3-1 in a best-of-seven NHL Western Conference semifinal series against the Detroit Red Wings.
Even worse, the mighty Hawks scoring machine that had effortlessly tallied four goals in Game 1 of that series suddenly found itself outscored 9-2 in Games 2 through 4.
Yet even when things looked their gloomiest, the Blackhawks never gave up, rallying for three straight wins—outscoring the Red Wings 10-5 in Games 5 through 7 to become the first team in NHL history to rally back from a 3-1 semifinal series deficit and advance to the conference finals.
"We went through a little spurt in the last series where we were doing the right thing but the pucks weren't going in," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said after Sunday's 4-2 win over the Kings in Game 2 of the NHL Western Conference Finals. "Now we're getting the results we want and we know we can do what we're doing more often and we can do it better, as well, in the next few games."
Coupled with the last three games against the Red Wings and the first two contests against the Kings, the Blackhawks are riding a five-game winning streak.
But, cautioned Chicago defenseman Michal Rozsival, "It's no time to celebrate now."
By comparison, the Kings have now lost five of their last seven playoff games.
"Obviously, it's a big hole," Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said.
However, both team's fortunes could dramatically change as the best-of-seven series shifts to Los Angeles for Games 3 (Tuesday) and 4 (Thursday).
At their Staples Center home, the Kings are riding a seven-game playoff winning streak (eight, if you count the last home game in last season's march to the Stanley Cup championship).
Even better, the Kings have won their last 14 games at home (including playoffs and end of regular season), and are 26-4-1 on home ice since the lockout-shortened season began.
But away from home during the current postseason, the Kings are now 1-7.
Something is going to have to give Tuesday.
Either the Kings mount a huge comeback and keep their home winning streak going, or the Blackhawks, riding a wave of momentum higher than Santa Monica Pier, are going to move even closer to their second trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs in the last four seasons.
"It’s hard when you go down 2-0," Kings center Tyler Toffoli said. "When you’re down 2-0 away on the road against a team like Chicago, it’s tough to come back.
"We’re going back home. Game 3 is going to be huge. We've got to bounce back, have a good start and just (take) a lead back home."
The Kings need to win four of the series' five remaining games just to get the chance to defend last season's Cup championship—and that would require at least one and possibly two more games back in Chicago.
The Blackhawks need just two more wins and they'll be facing either the Boston Bruins or Pittsburgh Penguins in the battle for Lord Stanley's massive silver chalice.
But there's a rub for the Blackhawks. While they are an outstanding 8-1 at their own home, the United Center, they are a mediocre 2-3 in road matches during the current playoffs.
Still, the Blackhawks, to use a well-worn phrase, are not only hitting on all cylinders, they're getting tremendous mileage from all phases of their game.
Goalie Corey Crawford, who has gone from suspect to stupendous in the playoffs, left Game 2 with yet another feather in his helmet: he overtook the Kings' Jonathan Quick for the NHL playoff lead in goals against average, 1.67 to Quick's 1.76.
There's also the play of left wing Patrick Sharp, who is uncharacteristically leading the Blackhawks in scoring with 14 points (eight goals, six assists). And don't forget veteran Marian Hossa, who is playing like a kid again, right behind Sharp in scoring with 13 points himself (six goals, seven assists).
Even offensive stalwarts Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, neither who managed to score a goal in the opening playoff series against Minnesota, have been methodically digging out of their respective scoring holes.
And if Toews and Kane get as hot in the next few playoff games as they were in the regular season, each scoring a team-leading 23 goals, yes, this series could be over in two or three more games.
It won't be easy, but if the Blackhawks can snap the Kings' domination at home, for as much as Chicago is the Blackhawks' kind of town, two games from now they could be singing "I Love LA" as they head to the Stanley Cup Finals.
All quotes were obtained by the writer.
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