Sometimes it takes a little bit of adversity to spark a championship-caliber team, and that's exactly what has happened with the Chicago Blackhawks since they fell behind 3-1 in their second-round series against the rival Detroit Red Wings.
From that point, Chicago has improved in nearly every facet of the game.
As a result, the Blackhawks have won six of their last seven games and need just one more victory to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the franchise ended its 49-year championship drought in 2010.
In one of their most impressive performances of the postseason, the Blackhawks took a commanding 3-1 series lead in their Western Conference Final matchup against the defending champion Los Angeles Kings with a 3-2 victory at the Staples Center on Thursday.
Chicago will travel back home with an opportunity to win the conference in front of the hometown fans at the Madhouse on Madison in Game 5 on Saturday.
For the Blackhawks to end the Kings' 15-game home winning streak in Game 4, they needed their star players to lead the way and contribute at both ends of the ice.
With the team trailing 2-1 in the second period, Patrick Kane tied the score with his third goal of the playoffs (first in nine games), which will certainly boost his confidence in what has been a tough postseason for the superstar winger.
As you can see from the replay of Kane's goal, he started below the goal line and crashed the net as soon as Niklas Hjalmarsson shot the puck from the point. This is the Kane that the Blackhawks need going forward, someone who's not afraid to go to the dirty areas to score goals.
Just over a minute into the third period, veteran forward Marian Hossa scored the game-winning goal with a blistering one-timer past Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick. As a player with a reputation of being clutch, it wasn't surprising that Hossa delivered when his team needed it most.
Per TSN's stat guy:
Hossa: 23% of career playoff goals have been game-winners....... 16% of regular season goals, game-winners. #clutch— THE STATS GUY (@TH2NSTATSGUY) June 7, 2013
Hossa: 5 of 7 goals in these playoffs have come when the game is tied, including his GWG tonight #clutch— THE STATS GUY (@TH2NSTATSGUY) June 7, 2013
Getting strong performances from their stars was an encouraging sign for the Blackhawks in Game 4, but one of the strengths of this roster is its scoring depth, and that was evident on Thursday.
Bryan Bickell, who started the playoffs as a bottom-six forward, is now tied for the team lead in goals scored (eight) after finding the back of the net in the first period of Game 4. Veteran center Michal Handzus, who has been a dependable role player for Chicago since he was acquired at the trade deadline, picked up the primary assist on Hossa's third-period goal.
Bickell's scoring production has been hugely important for the Blackhawks, while Kane and No. 1 center Jonathan Toews have struggled to make an impact offensively for most of the playoffs.
Toews tallied 48 points in the regular season, but he has just seven (one goal, six assists) in 16 playoff games. The captain has only one point in his last five games, but he created lots of scoring chances in Game 4, which likely resulted from him and Kane being reunited on the team's top line.
Toews and Kane have plenty of experience playing alongside each other, and if these two superstars get going offensively, the Blackhawks will be very difficult to beat in the Stanley Cup Final.
Chicago finished the regular season with the second-highest-scoring offense at 3.1 goals per game, but it has not scored at that pace in the playoffs (2.69 goals per game). This hasn't been a problem because of the consistently strong goaltending of Corey Crawford, whose confidence is growing with each game.
Entering the postseason, we knew the Blackhawks would score goals and play strong defense with consistent penalty killing. The only question mark was their goaltending. Crawford was average in last year's first-round series against the Phoenix Coyotes and had never won a playoff series until this season.
Who will win Game 5?
Any concerns about Crawford's ability to win important playoff games against elite teams have been put to bed in the Western Conference Final. He's allowed only seven goals in four games against the Kings, which has resulted in him leading the playoffs with a 1.72 GAA. His .936 save percentage ranks third among all goaltenders
With Crawford instilling a lot of confidence in his teammates, the Blackhawks have been able to find a rhythm and play their best hockey of the playoffs over the last seven games.
This a team that can roll four lines each night and win any kind of game, whether it's a high-scoring matchup or an intense defensive battle that requires physical play and great special teams.
As the series shifts back to Chicago, expect the Blackhawks to end the Kings' Stanley Cup defense and continue their pursuit of another championship.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs. He is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs.