Looking like Birds of Prey

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

CHICAGO -- For a team lacking playoff experience, the Chicago Blackhawks sure look like they know what they're doing.

Awaiting them in Calgary tonight is their toughest challenge yet.

Pushing a team to the brink of elimination is one thing. Ending their playoff lives is another.

With a chance tonight to win their first playoff round since beating the Flames in the Western Conference quarterfinal series in 1996, the Blackhawks should expect their opponents to play with desperation.

A loss in Game 6 at the Saddledome would mean the end of the Flames' playoff run in the first round for a fourth straight season.

Then again, the more experienced Flames shouldn't have been lacking motivation in Game 5 at the United Center in Chicago, and they hardly put up a fight as the Hawks picked them apart in a 5-1 victory to take a series stranglehold.

That spectacular performance is giving folks in the Windy City hope their heroes can end things quickly and avoid a winner-take-all Game 7 back here in Chicago.

Knowing the fifth game of a series tied at two apiece often dictates the ultimate winner, the Hawks showed the kind of killer instinct they'll need to finish things off.

Jumping out to a three-goal lead in a span of less than two minutes midway through the first period, the Hawks didn't settle for their biggest lead of the series, they built on it.

When centre Dustin Boyd gave the Flames a glimmer of hope -- however small -- by scoring his first post-season goal to make it 3-1, the Hawks pressed their feet even tighter against the Flames' throats and added two more tallies by the end of the third period.

Five different scorers.

Points from 10 different players.

That's the kind of play you want to see from the top of a lineup to the bottom.

The most consistent player for the Flames has been Eric Nystrom, who seems to have spring hockey sense flowing through his bloodlines but isn't the guy you should be leaning on when you have stars like Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff making big bucks.

Both Iginla and Kiprusoff have a Stanley Cup final run in their past.

Only 10 Hawks have had any kind of playoff experience. Just half of them have more than 40 post-season games under their belts.

Three, though, have won Stanley Cup rings -- Sammy Pahlsson with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, Andrew Ladd with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin with the Tampa Bay Lighting in 2004.

Maybe that's enough to spread word through the locker-room about what needs to be done on the ice to move on to the second round.

"Each game in this series has been tough, but from experience, I can say that closing out a series is especially difficult," Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville said after Game 5.

"We will need to play our best game to win in Calgary, something we are capable of."

They sure seemed capable of it in Game 5. Whether or not they can keep the Flames from forcing the series the distance remains to be seen.


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