Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - We've heard athletes talk about "taking it one game at a time" so often the phrase has become little more than a meaningless cliche.
While the phrase is clearly overused, it has actual meaning for the Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens at the present moment. Both teams found themselves down 3-1 in their respective conference final matchups, but each club has managed to take the first of three steps toward pulling off a monumental comeback.
Coming back from down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series is so rare in most sports, but in the NHL, especially in recent decades, it has become increasingly frequent. In the 2014 postseason alone, we have seen the Los Angeles Kings become the fourth team in NHL history (and second since 2010) to come back from down 3-0 to take a series, and the New York Rangers also rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Of course, even though the chances of pulling off these type of comebacks are greater in the NHL than in other sports, the odds are still firmly in the favor of this year's Stanley Cup battle being a matchup between the Kings and Rangers, who held 3-1 leads over Chicago and Montreal, respectively.
But now that the Blackhawks and Canadiens have sliced the deficit to 3-2, let's take a closer look at both teams' chances of pulling off comebacks and making it to the Cup Finals:
At first glance, it would seem the Blackhawks have a better chance than Montreal at rallying for a series win. After all, Chicago is the defending Stanley Cup champion and the club pulled off a 3-1 comeback as recently as last season. The Blackhawks won the final four games of the 2013 Western Conference semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings en route to winning their second Stanley Cup in four seasons.
So, we know Chicago has the ability to pull together and dig themselves out of a big hole, but can the Hawks do it against a team of L.A.'s caliber?
As evidenced by their 3-0 comeback against San Jose in this year's opening round, the Kings -- like their head coach Darryl Sutter -- are not easily rattled. The club plays four lines up front, has one of the best defensemen in the world in Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick lets in very few soft goals between the pipes. The Kings are extremely resilient and quite possibly are the toughest out in the NHL.
Take Chicago's Game 5 victory, for example. The Blackhawks played their best game of the series since winning Game 1, grabbed an early 3-1 lead and still needed double overtime to win the contest and stay alive.
One good sign for Chicago is 2014 Conn Smythe winner Patrick Kane finally broke out with four assists in Game 5. Another is if the Blackhawks win Game 6 in Los Angeles on Friday, they'll host Game 7 in the Windy City on Sunday. Chicago is 19-3 as the home team in the playoffs since the start of the 2013 postseason and 8-1 this spring.
Of the two teams heading into Game 6 trailing in the series, the Canadiens seem to have the better chance of actually pulling off the comeback. Like Chicago, the Habs have a potential home Game 7 awaiting them if they can extend the series again in Thursday's road battle against the Rangers.
Montreal also dialed up the offense in a big way the last time out, slamming the Rangers by a 7-4 score while chasing New York star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist from the game in the second period. We all know Lundqvist is more than capable of bouncing back in Game 6 and putting the doubters in their place, but after allowing four goals on just 19 shots in Game 5, it's not out of line to question "King Henrik" at this stage.
At the other end of the ice, however, is Dustin Tokarski, who only made his NHL playoff debut in Game 2 of this series after Habs No. 1 goalie Carey Price went down to injury. Tokarski has outplayed Lundqvist for most of this set, but the latter player's experience -- not to mention his sterling record in Game 7s -- would seem to give New York the slight edge in net.
The biggest reason the Canadiens are a better bet to pull off the comeback is New York's lack of discipline over the last two games. The Rangers left Game 4 with a victory despite giving Montreal eight power-play chances. The Blueshirts only handed the Habs four opportunities with the man advantage in Game 5, but one of their penalties was a game misconduct on defenseman John Moore, who was suspended for two games for his blind-side check on Montreal's Dale Weise.
The Canadiens have earned a somewhat deserved reputation for diving and over- selling penalties in this postseason, but it has worked in terms of getting under New York's skin. If the Rangers keep on taking the bait, they'll only be making it easier for Montreal to rally and take the series.
One more thing: The Canadiens have said time and again that Price is ruled out for this series, but the star netminder has returned to skating recently and it's not the craziest notion he could be ready to go for Game 7. After all, NHL teams treat injury news with secrecy usually reserved for issues of national security, so if a Price return is imminent, the public would be the last to know.