Can lightning strike twice for confident Quenneville?

13 years ago, he coached Blues back from 3-1 deficit to eliminate Coyotes in playoffs

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His team fresh off a 2-1 overtime victory on the road over the Coyotes in Game 5 of the first-round NHL playoffs, Joel Quenneville exuded confidence that extended into a dressing room full of players who fed off their coach.

"Maybe tonight's the turning point," Quenneville told reporters after the win. "It can really swing the momentum in our direction."

Quenneville made those statements April 30, 1999, after his Blues beat the Coyotes in Phoenix to make the series 3-2. Quenneville's Blues eventually advanced after winning Game 7 in large part because he never let them consider they wouldn't.

"I remember Joel turned that into a situation where he made us believe as players all the pressure was on them,'' recalled Scott Young, an NHL winger for 17 years who scored the game-winner for the Blues that day.

Young's favorite coach was Coach Q — and not for the X's and O's.

"As players, we never felt a negative because he turned it into a positive," Young, 44, said. "We felt good about ourselves. You believe what he's telling you because it wasn't cliche, it was from Joel's heart. I've been (down 3-1) on other teams and not had that feeling."

The same words Quenneville spoke 13 years ago about the Blues now apply to the Blackhawks after Jonathan Toews scored a game-winning goal Saturday night in overtime. The dramatic turn gave the Blackhawks hope and left the Coyotes and worried hockey fans in the Valley wondering if another Quenneville team would repeat history.

"We have not played our best hockey of the series," Quenneville said.

In Chicago, we considered that an apology. Around Phoenix, it sounded like a threat.

Temperatures dropped nearly 30 degrees for the Coyotes upon arrival Sunday in Chicago yet I suspect the heat was more noticeable for a franchise that never has won a playoff series in Arizona. As surely the Coyotes were reminded before leaving home, perhaps the closest they ever came to breaking through came in 1999, when they blew a 3-1 series lead to a team coached by a familiar mustachioed man.

"That was pretty disappointing, obviously," recalled Shane Doan, who was in his third year as a Coyote. "We've had to deal with (futility) but I don't think it's a big deal to most of the guys. The only guy feeling it most would probably be me. Obviously, I'd like to get out of the first round."

One organization's haunting memory is another's frame of reference.

Not only has Quenneville coached a team back from the brink of elimination but the Blackhawks believe this is when their Stanley Cup experience kicks in most. It doesn't matter if you agree. It makes a difference on the ice because the Hawks do, and the manner in which they saved their season suggests they rely on persistence more than their power play.

"That's got to say something about our character and what we're able to do," Toews said.

It says I should start checking airfares for a Wednesday trip to Arizona.

When Toews did what great leaders do and gathered teammates for a players-only meeting at Saturday's morning skate, I doubt he talked strategy — unless it was how deep to dig for the urgency the Hawks played with in Game 5. They did not start calling Toews Captain Serious because he likes to tell guys to relax.

Toews appealed to buddies Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and others to follow their example, because the Hawks have won playoff series before due to perseverance. They have a gaudy ring and countless memories to remind them.

Now the Blackhawks have a Nick Leddy laser from the point past goalie Mike Smith that tied the game at 1 — the fourth time in the series the Coyotes surrendered a third-period lead — as the latest reminder. Now they have an overtime goal from Toews, the product of will as much as skill, to confirm it's more than blind faith.

Now, oddly, they have a psychological edge heading into Monday night's Game 6 despite trailing a game. The Coyotes have a better goalie, a smart coach and a system that continues to frustrate the Hawks' top scorers.

But if this series returns to Arizona, does anybody really trust the Coyotes more in a Game 7?

"I really like the Hawks because of their experience and Joel," Young said.

We chuckled when Quenneville responded to a question about playing in five straight overtime games by saying it was, "tough on the ticker."

But in a series as historically close as this one has been, it indeed might come down to heart.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh
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