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updated: 4/27/2014 8:41 PM

Blackhawks save best for last against Blues

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  • Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews, celebrating his tiebreaking, third-period goal Sunday, knows how difficult it is to take each big step on the road to a Stanley Cup title.

      Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews, celebrating his tiebreaking, third-period goal Sunday, knows how difficult it is to take each big step on the road to a Stanley Cup title.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

A year ago, the Blackhawks cruised through the first round against Minnesota and won the first game against an exhausted Detroit team that went seven with Anaheim, making the trip out West three separate times.

Joel Quenneville warned them more than once about finding a better pace to their game, but they didn't until they trailed the Wings 3-1.

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Now with so much talk of a repeat and facing a strong St. Louis squad, it took the Hawks four games to find their desperation against a big and physical team that allows for very little room on the ice.

But they did find it.

After all they went through last year, it should be no surprise that the Hawks came back from a 2-0 series deficit, won four straight and put St. Louis away in defending-champion style, scoring four times in the third Sunday afternoon at the UC to break a 1-1 tie and send the Blues to a Monday tee time.

Yup, desperation found.

"The first round last year we kind of took it easy," said Bryan Bickell, who had the first goal Sunday, collected 3 points in the last three games and leads the NHL in playoff hits with 35. "We went into the Detroit series like, 'That's how we play. That's what it's gonna take.' You saw what happened.

"We weren't playing near where we needed to play. Coming out of this series is a big step. That's a great (St. Louis) team that easily could have finished No. 1 in the league if not for injuries.

"To beat them the way we did, we have a lot of confidence going to the next round."

Not only did the Hawks struggle early this series to find their energy, but they needed a reminder in how hard it is to win a playoff series.

"I think when you look at last summer and late June and we're celebrating, you almost forget the first round because it was so long ago," said captain Jonathan Toews, who had the game-winner Sunday early in the third and finished the series tied with Duncan Keith for the team lead in points (7). "You forget about the steps and how difficult it is to take each step.

"We have the first step now. We're on to the next one. I don't know who we'll play, but we need to keep getting better as each series goes on."

To his credit, Quenneville sounded the alarm after the opening round last year and tried to get the players' attention after Game 1 against Detroit. But the Hawks don't seem to find their stride until they need to, a dangerous but familiar and successful formula.

"We definitely don't put our feet up and rely on coming back, but we seem to get stronger as games and series go on," said Patrick Sharp, who got the monkey off his back with a goal Sunday. "We have so many players that can step up in a big moment, and no one puts it on their shoulders.

"We try not to think of the big picture. You just focus on shift by shift, roll those lines over and good things will happen. There's a lot of talent in this room."

That's hard to forget when they won this series against a very good team getting 3 points combined from Sharp and Marian Hossa, two world-class Olympians.

"Every series is different, but we feel confident right now," said Keith, who was absolutely brilliant in the series, averaging 29:51 per game and collecting 4 points Sunday. "We'll use it to our advantage and be ready as soon as the puck drops next game."

That would be something of an upset if true, but the Hawks claim they are focused only on the next match, not thinking about repeating as Stanley Cup champs.

"We don't want to look too far ahead," Keith said. "St. Louis is a tough team and we're happy we won. We'll enjoy this, but we know we need to keep getting better. We got better as this series went along, and we have to be better than that next series."

Sometimes you wonder if the Hawks have learned from their mistakes, but this series was probably more a case of a team emotionally and physically spent and because of that was unprepared to match the Blues' energy from the start of Game 1.

"I know that we came home disappointed being down 0-2," Quenneville said. "As the series progressed, you had to really raise the level of battling and perseverance almost every shift. (The Blues) were relentless.

"Every game seemed to get more challenging. I thought (the Blues) played their best game here today. We were fortunate to come out of it the way it ended up."

What the Hawks have done the last two years is all the proof you need that they are never out of a game, never done with a series. At least not until they decide they're done.

"Not everything goes your way, but you have to keep working and stick to your game," said goalie Corey Crawford, who was the best Hawks player through the six-game series. "Our team never stops working, and we always believe something good is gonna happen."

It's way past the time to stop doubting them.

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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