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posted: 4/25/2014 5:30 AM

Blackhawks finally starting to find their legs

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  • Patrick Kane was absolutely flying the last few minutes of regulation and in overtime Wednesday night against the Blues at the United Center. It's the first time he's looked like Patrick Kane since he returned, according to Barry Rozner.

      Patrick Kane was absolutely flying the last few minutes of regulation and in overtime Wednesday night against the Blues at the United Center. It's the first time he's looked like Patrick Kane since he returned, according to Barry Rozner.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

It took four games to happen, but the Blackhawks were the better team on the ice Wednesday night in Chicago.

Finally.

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You wondered if it was going to happen at all in this series, but backed into a corner the Hawks bettered and battered the Blues for 60 of the 71 minutes in Game 4.

Sure, the Hawks had a chance to win all four, but they weren't playing inspired hockey and even in desperation, there was no desperation -- until the final seven minutes Wednesday.

Maybe that's the way it has to be for this team. The Hawks have displayed for all the world to see that when their backs are against the wall, they will not go away, and they absolutely play their best hockey when there is no tomorrow.

That's where they were with seven minutes left in Game 4, trailing by a goal in a game they should have had well in hand at that point.

But that's also when they had their best shift of the series.

With 4:45 remaining in regulation, the Hawks entered the St. Louis zone and for the next 53 seconds Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell cycled the puck down low, getting shots, keeping the pressure on and wearing down the Blues.

Meanwhile, Michal Rozsival and Nick Leddy kept the puck in the zone and switched sides twice while trying to get pucks to the net. Ultimately, it was a simple play from Rozsival and a brilliant tip by Bickell that saved the Hawks' season.

"Our forwards did a great job there with pressure down low and hanging onto the puck. Very hard work there by our guys," Rozsival said. "That was an amazing shift."

And then, Patrick Kane took over the game.

He was absolutely flying the last few minutes of regulation and in overtime. It's the first time he's looked like Patrick Kane since he returned, and if a few others get it going, the Hawks may yet be the Hawks again.

For Kane, it's a matter of trust and confidence. He now believes he can move on that injured knee and he has the confidence to make plays, and you could see it in overtime as Kane flew through the neutral zone.

The Hawks have had precious little room through the middle of the ice during most of this series, but Kane beat them up and down the ice with his speed in OT, and when he waited for reinforcements on that 3-on-3 -- as Ben Smith crashed the net and took two defensemen with him -- you could sense the Blues feeling Kane's presence in a major way.

Playing with Smith and Patrick Sharp from the third period on, Kane found his legs and some chemistry, and that line was dominant, getting chance after chance in the extra session.

"You never really know with (Joel Quenneville) what he's gonna do with the lines, and so everyone learns to play with everyone," Smith said. "You never know when things are gonna change. It's fun that way.

"We had some good chemistry so we'll see what happens."

What happened Wednesday was a feeling of rebirth in the Hawks' locker room. The defending champs have been looking to hit their stride and find their game.

Up until that tying goal late, there was a feeling of struggle. After, a feeling of ownership, that this is the Hawks' time of year and the mood postgame was entirely different that it was after surviving Game 3, when they were clearly outplayed for the third time in three games.

Kane can have that effect. Rallying late can energize a team. Playing desperate at desperate times can be contagious.

Add it all up and the Hawks have gone from playing catch-up and trying to survive to feeling like they have the momentum in the series.

"I thought we got a little bit more comfortable as the game progressed," Quenneville said. "But you can't say enough about how competitive it's been for four games; the battles, the resiliency and the will.

"It was a huge win for us and it got us back to even. We've got some momentum. Let's go in there and look to sustain it."

Going into the game, Kane, Smith, Hossa, Bickell and Andrew Shaw had combined for 1 point in the series. Those players collected 7 points Wednesday.

They outshot the Blues in Game 4 for the first time. They were down huge early in faceoff percentage, but bounced back to win that category, too. They reached 30 hits for first time and it had an effect on St. Louis.

Hockey is a physical and nasty game, and when you don't push back you get pushed around. Bullies don't like getting beat up and the Blues were the ones who limped out of the building Wednesday, wondering about the future.

What they know for certain is that the Hawks are never out of a game because they will not quit.

"It's our leadership," Smith said. "Guys that have been there before, like Toews and (Duncan) Keith, they just stick with it and stay positive. We gave up those two late goals in the second but the guys stayed positive.

"Even when we were down late in the game, the guys stick with it because they've done it so many times before. They know how to survive."

The Hawks are still a long way from having survived this series, but at 2-2 heading for Game 5, they know a victory Friday night would put them in a great spot.

For the first time, they're finding their legs as a team and the Blues are wearing down.

And the champs are only starting to gear up.

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.

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