For a span of five or six games near the end of their record-setting point streak, the Blackhawks played with a desperation rarely witnessed during the regular season.
That’s the kind of energy and desire normally reserved for the postseason, except the Hawks hadn’t displayed that passion often through the first three games against Minnesota.
The Wild came out flying and dominated the start of the game again Tuesday night in Minnesota, but the Hawks got on the board first and then found their game, defeating the Wild 3-0 to take a 3-1 series lead back to Chicago.
The first eight minutes of Game 4 looked exactly like Game 3, with Minnesota completely in control from goal line to goal line, but then came the game-changing play by Marian Hossa.
After a steal at the Wild blue line, Hossa found Michal Handzus cruising down the slot, and he fired it off Patrick Sharp and past Josh Harding for a 1-0 Hawks lead at 8:48.
“Hossa made a great play on the puck” Sharp said. “I just wanted to get to the net and it hit me in the knee and went in.”
The Hawks never looked back after that.
Facing Minnesota’s third-string goalie, Darcy Kuemper, after Josh Harding was injured late in the first, Sharp also scored early in the second to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead.
That gave Sharp 5 points in less than five periods after a rough start to the series. He had 2 goals in the third period of Game 2, an assist in Game 3 and 2 goals in the first 21 minutes Tuesday.
After that, it was mostly about the Hawks’ penalty kill and Minnesota’s inability to hit the net or get shots past a smothering Hawks defense. The Wild went 0-for-6 on the power play, and the Hawks blocked 26 shots for the game.
Bryan Bickell picked up the third Hawks goal midway through the third, and Corey Crawford remained strong in the net, giving the Wild few second chances and making himself big in the net.
Shockingly, the Hawks are up 3-1 and have gotten only 1 goal from the Jonathan Toews line, and that was Hossa in Game 1. They have 4 goals from the Handzus line, 3 from the Andrew Shaw line, 2 from the Marcus Kruger line and 2 from the defense.
So far, the Hawks have not looked like the NHL’s top seed at any point in this series, not from a skill or speed standpoint, and you know they’re never going to be very physical. Meanwhile, the power play is 1-for-11 and continues to look anemic.
“We seemed to kind of cruise out of the regular season. We were playing solid hockey,” Toews said. “We weren’t making a lot of mistakes, but we didn’t have that elevated level that you need in the playoffs.
“We kind of carried that into the first couple games. You watch every other series and you see how tough it is on every single play, every single shift. Nothing is taken for granted. We have to have that same work ethic and same hatred for that team.”
Nevertheless, they have done enough to beat an offensively challenged Minnesota team through four games. There are no style points in the playoffs, so a victory is a victory, and the Hawks are in control of the series.
Still, they have to be better as the postseason continues. More important, they need to know that.
źListen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score’s “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.