'Hawks have overcome just to get here

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:09 PM ET

VANCOUVER -- Given all the Chicago Blackhawks have been asked to endure in the last year, and in their series with Vancouver, just making it to Game 7 was a feat in itself.

Forced by the salary cap to gut their roster, the 'Hawks began the year as a shadow of their championship team, without Antti Niemi, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Adam Burish, Ben Eager, Jordan Hendry, Nick Boynton, Andrew Ladd, Kim Johnsson, Brent Sopel and John Madden.

The key muckers and grinders and role players that help win titles were gone.

They made it into the post-season on fumes, without playoff warrior Dave Bolland. Three games in, Brent Seabrook was gone and the 'Hawks were down 3-0.

There was virtually no hope.

"We could have very easily rolled over and called it quits," said Chicago's Ryan Johnson. "It says a lot about the core group of guys in here. After winning it last year they could have easily said 'Hey, we'll have a nice, long summer.' It says a lot about the character and maturity in this dressing room."

Even the coach had to battle adversity. Joel Quenneville, sidelined for four games in February with a bleeding ulcer, fought back, too.

"It has been a challenging year, but we knew putting together our team ... with the newness of the players there were a lot of different things coming together at once," said the 52-year-old. "But it was a good challenge for everybody. It was a fun process."

They thought their season was over after a loss in Game 82, then turned their second life into a remarkable comeback against a heavily favoured Vancouver team.

"A lot of people can say we didn't have the greatest year, but we feel we've been pretty successful in here, close to 100 points (97)," said Patrick Kane. "Slipping in the standings (to eighth) sometimes puts the wrong mindset on you, but we feel that we had a good team all year and could compete with anyone, we showed it all year. We've beaten some top teams."

While the hockey world couldn't believe they were able to force a seventh game, Kane wasn't all that surprised, given the slim margin of Vancouver's victory in the first three games.

"Sometimes in a playoff series it's a lot closer than it seems," he said. "I remember the series against San Jose last year, we swept them but every game was a one-goal game and it was a lot closer than it seemed."

And the 'Hawks, despite the losses, are better then people give them credit for.

Jonathan Toews even believes the 'Hawks could have wrapped this thing up in five or six with a couple of breaks here and there.

"I'm not going to say we played good hockey in those first two games, but there were times when we just couldn't find a way to the net, just didn't have the extra step or the right timing."

BICKELL OUT FOR GAME 7:

The 'Hawks, who've been playing a key man short the whole series with Bolland missing the first three games and Seabrook out for 4 and 5, went into Game 7 without big, physical winger Bryan Bickell. He'd been playing with a deep cut on his hand that required surgery.

UNWELCOME BACK:

Last time Toews played a game this big in Vancouver, the crowd was on his side.

But there's a pretty big difference between being a Canadian Olympian and a Chicago Blackhawk.

"This city was amazing through that whole two weeks," said Toews, who hasn't been getting the same love this time around.

"It's a little different atmosphere, but it's fun to play both roles."


Videos

Photos