The Blackhawks are so talented and deep this season that they seem able to turn it on and off as needed.
And a series against the Minnesota Wild — with all due respect to a team that was last to clinch a playoff spot — did not bring out the best in the Hawks.
So the bad news going into Game 5 was that the Hawks had not yet played a great hockey game.
The good news is they were well aware of it.
So the Hawks came out Thursday night at the UC with the most energy they’ve displayed in the series and took it to the Wild, winning the game 5-1 and closing out the series in five games.
“I think we can play a lot better,” Patrick Kane said late Thursday. “It’s good when you can come away with a 4-1 (series) win and know that you didn’t play your best.”
Early this season as the Hawks got off to a record-setting start, they often played third periods as though they were elimination games. Before Thursday — when they came out playing from the start — there was no point in this series that saw the Hawks sustain anything resembling that supreme effort.
“It’s going to get tougher and tougher from here,” said captain Jonathan Toews, who collected his first 2 points of the series. “We’re going to talk a lot among the group before the next series and make sure we’re ready to go from the start.
“We worked hard to get where we are and get home ice, and we need to protect that by playing good hockey with good energy when the puck drops.”
The Hawks played their best game of the series Thursday, and it started with their best period of the series, when they came out with desperation off the opening draw.
After Corey Crawford stood on his head a few times and the Hawks got on the board first, the Wild knew they were cooked and it was apparent in their play.
“We wanted to use the crowd to our advantage,” Toews said. “We wanted to put pressure on them right away and remind them that they were down 3 games to 1.”
The Hawks took care of business in fine fashion and were mostly businesslike in their approach after winning a playoff series for the first time since the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.
The series so lacked meaning and emotion that there wasn’t a compelling reason to watch the handshakes — except that it remains one of the great traditions in sports.
“We can be excited about this,” Toews said. “To sit here and treat this as just another win doesn’t do it justice.”
But the overwhelming feeling in the room after the game was that the Hawks are on a mission, and defeating Minnesota was merely the first step. They are also keenly aware that their next opponent will not be a pushover.
“There’s a long way to go and the teams will be better and the stakes higher every round,” Toews said. “There’s a lot of leadership in this room and there will be a lot of talk about what we have to do next and how prepared we have to be.”
The last two years the Hawks did not have the depth — especially on defense — to handle the physical play of Vancouver and Phoenix. Minnesota played good defense, but the Wild aren’t nearly as talented as the teams that ousted the Hawks the previous two seasons, and the Hawks know what’s coming.
“We can play better and we have to play better,” said Patrick Sharp, who finished the scoring with his fifth goal of the series. “I don’t think the first couple of games we can be satisfied with our intensity level or our sense of urgency. I guess the idea is to get better as we go along. We did that.”
So the Hawks move on to the second round for the first time since their Cup-winning season, but they also know they were facing a second-string goalie who hadn’t played the last few months, a third-stringer, and then the backup again with an injury.
The Wild lack the offensive skill to compete with the Hawks and they aren’t very physical, but whether the Hawks play Detroit or San Jose next, that team is going to have plenty of skill, and in the Sharks’ case, size and ferocity, too.
The next series will be much more difficult, so it’s just about time for the Hawks’ to flip that switch and turn it on.
Now, it gets real.
ŸListen 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.