Blackhawks eager for their first postseason closeout game in four years

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EDMONTON, ALBERTA – AUGUST 05: Connor Murphy #5 of the Chicago Blackhawks is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a go-ahead goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the third period in Game Three of the Western Conference Qualification Round prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 05, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

EDMONTON – For most of the 2010s, this was a pretty common occurrence.

The Blackhawks would get within one victory of capturing a postseason series, making that contest a “closeout” game. From 2010 through 2015, the Blackhawks won 14 of those with three of those, with three clinching Stanley Cup titles.

Opportunities like this one have dried up a bit lately with the team’s fall in the standings, but one has popped up on Friday for the first time in four years. After a comeback win in Game 3, the Blackhawks can clinch their preliminary round series against the Oilers in Game 4 at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

It’s their first “closeout” game since Game 7 of the 2016 Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Blues, which they lost 3-2. Jeremy Colliton wasn’t around for that one, but he doesn’t see a fundamental change to the Blackhawks’ strategy coming as the stakes get raised on Friday night.

“As far as our approach, we’re gonna keep working to get better,” said Jeremy Colliton of the upcoming Game 4. “There’s no reason to overthink it. We’ve come through with some goals and we’re gonna come through with more here.”

Blackhawks’ teams in the past have done so, but not recently, with Corey Crawford, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Brandon Saad being the only ones of the roster to have won a closeout game with the franchise. That was back on June 15, 2015, when a 2-0 victory over the Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at the United Center gave the team their third title in six seasons.

For Saad, who was traded the summer after the 2015 and hasn’t played in a closeout game since, knows that the key for the Blackhawks is to be ready for a desperate Edmonton team. Fighting for their season, he expects an even greater effort from the Oilers than they had after losing Game 1.

“Just learning from Game 2. They had that killer instinct when they’re down a game, and now they’re on the brink of elimination,” said Saad. “So I think that was a good lesson for our team and we just have to match that intensity going into tomorrow knowing they’re going to be a desperate team with their backs against the wall, and we’re gonna have that same intensity against them tomorrow.”

Should they bring that, the true Stanley Cup Playoffs could await this upstart 12th seed next week.

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