CHICAGO – Hockey players are remarkably adept at living in the moment. No matter how enormous that moment is. The Chicago Blackhawks are particularly good at it, but of course it’s easy to approach Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final like a February game against Carolina when you’ve been there twice before.
Many of the players on both teams insisted there will be no difference in their approach to Game 6 of the final. But how possible is it to do that? Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who never played in the NHL and is coaching in his first Stanley Cup final, figured it’s pretty well impossible, regardless of what the players were saying.
“No chance,” Cooper said when asked that very question. “The Stanley Cup is in the building. I can’t believe they would say, ‘Oh, it’s just another game.’ We know it’s just not another game. We haven’t treated those elimination games like that. This is much different than Game 1. You got to win or you go home. On the other side you know what happens if they win. I don’t like to sugarcoat anything. This is the reality of the business we’re in. We need to rise to the occasion.”
Or as Blackhawks rookie Teuvo Teravainen put it: “You treat it like it’s a normal game, but you know it’s not. One more good game for us and that’s it.”
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. On the one hand, you have a Blackhawks team that traditionally gets better as the series progress and one that has already closed out two Stanley Cup championships in this precise situation. On the other hand, you have a Lightning team that has played its best when it has faced elimination. The Lightning, as a group, seems to thumb its nose as these situations and has not been tentative or lacked the killer instinct when it has been down in series.
“I can’t sit here and predict the result tonight, but I will tell you we will show up,” Cooper said. “At this point of the series, though, I still don’t feel we’re the inexperienced Lightning. We’ve picked up a lot of experience here in the last two months. I understand that Chicago’s won a couple Cups in the last few years. They have a heck of a team over there. But I think we have a heck of a team, too. We’re a pretty hungry group. So I think right now you throw the experience out the window. It’s going to come down to will.”
The Lightning got a major boost this morning when Nikita Kucherov hit the ice for the morning skate and looked as though he’d be ready to go after crashing into the goalpost and leaving the game early in Game 5. Cooper said Kucherov is “probable” for Game 6, which will ensure the Triplet Line of Tyler Johnson between Kucherov and Ondrej Palat will stay intact.
When Kucherov provided an update on his availability, with microphones in his face and people hanging on his every word, he stopped for the cameras, prepared his words and said, “I’m going to take warm-up and it’s up to coach if I play or not.” Then he was whisked away.
Oh, the playoffs.
The Blackhawks will come back with the same lineup they’ve had the past two games, both victories. The Blackhawks, with the exception of Game 5, have not played particularly well in the series and have vowed that Game 6 will be their best game. And they’re expecting the same thing against an opponent that is intent on denying the organization a chance to celebrate a Stanley Cup victory with its fans for the first time since 1938. The Cup was not even in the building that night, but it was at the old Chicago Stadium in 1992, 1973 and 1971 when the Blackhawks lost championship on home ice.
“Yeah, we expect a dangerous team,” Quenneville said of the Lightning. “There’s been no letdown. They’ve been after us since Day 1 at the puck drop. They’re a good hockey team. I think there’s a ton of respect on our side, what they’re capable of. Every shift is so meaningful. We don’t expect that to change.”