A little less than eight hours before the critical Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals, Jonathan Toews didn't look like a guy who was frustrated, who was angry, who was worried.
He looked like a guy who was, well, having fun.
"The talk the last few days has been the adversity that we're facing, but we knew that this was going to be tough series -- this is Detroit," Toews said with his team trailing the Red Wings 2-1 in the series. "So we're not running into anything that we didn't expect. ... It seems to be the first time that we're running into some tough adversity, but there's nothing wrong with that. It's something you have to embrace come playoff time. You don't win a Stanley Cup without going through something like that. We have to welcome it. And whatever they throw at us, we've got to smile and throw it right back in their face. That's what playoff hockey's all about. We've got to enjoy it."
Toews was indeed smiling, and most of the Hawks seemed to be in a rather good mood after an unusually focused morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. If the pressure's mounting, they weren't showing it.
"Our group's been fine. We're definitely disappointed, we haven't been in this position all year. We've quietly gone about our business and [they've] gotten our attention over the last couple of games. The focus has got to be in the right place. We want to play our best game of the year tonight, and we're going to need it."
After a disastrous Game 2, the Hawks felt they played a strong game in Game 3, particularly in the third period. The way they see it, if a break or two had gone their way, they'd be the team up 2-1 in the series. Of course, they're not. And the fact that one of their better efforts wasn't good enough to beat the surging Red Wings might not have damaged the Hawks' confidence, but it certainly boosted Detroit's.
"It shows that we have a lot of confidence and we're playing close to our best hockey right now, and that's what we want to keep doing," said defenseman Brendan Smith. "I think we've still got to work on a few things. I don't think we've played a full 60 minutes and that's something we're going to need to do tonight, because we all know Chicago's going to come out blazing. It's such an important game. Seems like every game gets more important -- it's unbelievable how that works. They're going to up their ante and we're going to have to do the same."
The sense in the Red Wings dressing room is that they're getting better every game, and that they're peaking at the right time.
"I think so," Justin Abdelkader said. "I think we've seen it before, where we've been a top seed in the playoffs and playing a team that's hot coming into the playoffs and playing well. That says something. For a team that's been fighting for our playoff lives the last month, we kind of found our game and know the way we've got to play to be successful. So I think that's been good for us."
Toews didn't deny that the Wings are gaining confidence with each game. But he believes if the Hawks put forth their best effort, it shouldn't matter.
"Maybe so, but so are we," Toews said. "We're going to keep believing in ourselves. There was a reason we made it this far. We're a good team -- we're a really good team. We have a lot of players with some great ability in this locker room, and when you put it all together and we play the right way, we're an amazing, amazing bunch of guys. We've got to be confident in this locker room. Just have fun with it. There's not going to be any panic in our game tonight, we're going to go out there and do a job and keep fighting the way we have.
"We're a confident, happy group right now. We're excited to play tonight."