When the final horn sounded from Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Chicago Blackhawks skated off the ice with what must have been a familiar pit in their stomachs.
Just over a year ago—May 23, 2013, to be precise—the same team left Joe Lewis Arena in Detroit facing the same predicament it's in now. Down three games to one, the defending champions are one game away from being eliminated from the playoffs.
Much like in 2013, the 2014 Blackhawks will head back to the United Center trailing in a series against a tough opponent. They will need to play their best game on home ice to earn another crack at a team they haven't beaten yet on the road in a potential Game 6.
The comparisons stop there.
With all due respect to the 2013 Detroit Red Wings, the 2014 Los Angeles Kings are a bigger, faster, more physical and more dynamic hockey club. This isn't the same Kings team the Hawks rolled over in five games last year en route to capturing the Stanley Cup.
This year's Kings squad resembles the 2012 team that won its first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Offensively challenged in the regular season, the Kings lead the NHL in goals per game in the postseason. Healthy at the right time, they've imposed their will on the champs for large chunks of the Western Conference Final, resulting in their 3-1 series lead to this point.
But despite the adversity, the Blackhawks will still need to draw upon the resiliency they relied on last year to claw out of, one game at a time, their 3-1 hole.
In the 2013 second-round series against the Red Wings, the Blackhawks were lulled into playing Detroit's game, a more physical brand of hockey, for three games. They were rightfully punished after taking a cavalcade of trips to the penalty box, which seemed to have a revolving door.
History has repeated itself in many ways in 2014. Frustration set in for Patrick Sharp after the Hawks fell behind 2-0 in Game 4, and his roughing penalty came back to bite his team, as the Kings scored their second power-play goal of the night to increase the lead to 3-0.
They never looked back.
Though it's been tougher to see the silver linings in the losses against the Kings, the Blackhawks have played solid hockey in stretches of this series. Not including the Game 1 win, they were the better team for two periods in Game 2 before a third-period collapse turned the tide for the Kings.
In Game 3, Chicago outworked Los Angeles in the first period and were rewarded with a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission, but the Kings responded with two goals in the second period and went on to win 4-3.
In Game 4 the Blackhawks were outplayed for the first 33 minutes of the game, where L.A. jumped out to a 4-0 lead, before outplaying the Kings in the second half of the second period as well as for the entirety of the third. The Blackhawks outshot the Kings 9-8 in the second period and 8-5 in the third.
On paper, Los Angeles' lead in the series and the way it's achieved it makes the team look like the real heavyweight this round, but don't count the defending champs out just yet. The Blackhawks know that if they find a way to play a complete 60-minute game, they'll emerge as the victorious team.
It's a tall order against the Kings, who've bottled up superstar playmaker Patrick Kane nicely in the series, but Chicago's resiliency has yet to really be tested this postseason, as the Hawks haven't trailed past the fourth game in any series thus far.
Corey Crawford has been let down by his defense in each of the last three games but brings a sparkling 8-0 record with a 1.13 goals-against average in playoff Game 5s into Wednesday night's tilt.
Since 2011, the Blackhawks are 7-2 in games in which they've faced elimination, including a 3-0 mark from last year's Cup run. The Hawks are 21-7 when trailing at any point in a postseason series since 2010, including a 6-1 mark in last year's playoffs.
They'll put those numbers to the test once again Wednesday night.
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