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updated: 6/3/2013 8:16 PM

Blackhawks can't afford letdown now

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  • Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook pins Los Angeles Kings right wing Justin Williams against the boards in the second period during Game 2 of the Western Conference finals Sunday at the United Center.

      Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook pins Los Angeles Kings right wing Justin Williams against the boards in the second period during Game 2 of the Western Conference finals Sunday at the United Center.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

The Blackhawks are saying all the right things.

"This time of year, you try to carry momentum as long as you can," said Patrick Sharp. "We felt great about coming back in that Detroit series. Game 7 was a huge high for us, but that seems like a long time ago now.

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"We're past that and we're focused on the Kings. We're happy to win the first two games at home. We know how well the Kings play in their building. The series is really just getting started."

If the Hawks really believe that about the Western Conference finals, then they are in a great spot. The problem is, we have heard this from them before and they haven't been mentally prepared for what has come next.

After winning the first two against Minnesota in Chicago, the Hawks knew the Wild would come with their best effort in Game 3 at home. The Hawks said they knew it and were outplayed from start to finish, and only Corey Crawford's brilliance got them to overtime, where they lost.

"They took it to another level. It's something we have to be ready for next time," Jonathan Toews said after Game 3 of the first series. "We should have expected that from the start."

After Game 1 of the Detroit series, the Hawks thought they could throw their sticks on the ice in Game 2, and they were throttled, which gave Detroit the momentum, and the Red Wings didn't stop until they had a 3-1 lead.

The Hawks didn't find their Game 7 intensity until they were trailing 3-1 in the series, and even then they didn't put together a 60-minute effort until Game 1 against the Kings.

They have said the right things over and over again through the first three series, and they have failed over and over again to play with an understanding of what they were truly facing.

Now, the Kings will play Game 3 in Los Angeles as though it's a Game 7, knowing that they can't go down 3-0 in the series and pretend to have a chance.

"We want to be excited," said Joel Quenneville. "It's going to be a hostile environment. Our start is going to be very important, so let's be proactive and do the right things."

Certainly, the coaching staff understands the significance. A Game 3 victory for the Hawks ends the series. A Game 3 loss and Los Angeles knows they can win again in Game 4 and change the outlook entirely.

"We're not a team that gets ahead of ourselves, down on ourselves, up on ourselves, listens to what somebody else says," said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. "Doesn't matter if we're up two or down two, the other team knows they're going to have their hands full."

Having been down 2-0, if the Kings return to Chicago 2-2 they can put all the pressure back on the Hawks, who know that a Game 5 loss at home means they would have to win a game in Los Angeles, where the Kings haven't lost in 11 weeks.

That's how fast these series can change from an emotional standpoint, and if the Hawks let up at all, they will find themselves in a difficult spot yet again.

Having won five straight games, that may seem ridiculous at the moment from a Chicago viewpoint, but the Kings also lost the first two in St. Louis in the first round and then won four consecutive 1-goal games.

"I think you can draw on the fact that we've been in this situation before in the sense that the series is long from over," Kings captain Dustin Brown said Monday. "It's about playing the game.

"We try to cut it in half tomorrow night. We're not worried about Game 4, Game 5. We're thinking about tomorrow night, your first shift, first play you have to make. Then, you go from there."

The Kings are extremely confident about what they can do at home, and if the Hawks give them life, the Kings could make this series difficult for the NHL's No. 1 seed.

"Certainly, confidence is high for us coming back home," said Justin Williams. "Been a lot of success here. Guys have played well here. We've won every which way. We're going to need to continue that against an extremely good team."

There is only one certain way for the Hawks to take care of business, and that's play like they're down, not ahead, in the series. Against Detroit, it's when they played their best hockey, and they can't let up now thinking this series is under control.

They are the better team and they should be able to win one game in Los Angeles this week.

All they have to do is remember the mistakes of the Detroit series and they should be fine.

But this time, they must remember.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Listen 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.

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