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updated: 5/4/2014 7:42 PM

Another wild finish puts Blackhawks in command

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  • To the delight of the some of the 272nd straight capacity crowd (regular and postseason) at the United Center, the Blackhawks enjoy a group hug after Brandon Saad, second from left, scores in the second period Sunday in Game 2 against the Wild.

      To the delight of the some of the 272nd straight capacity crowd (regular and postseason) at the United Center, the Blackhawks enjoy a group hug after Brandon Saad, second from left, scores in the second period Sunday in Game 2 against the Wild.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

From the outside, this series probably looks like a blowout.

Two Blackhawks victories, each by 3 goals, and a predetermined outcome that feels all too familiar after the Hawks handled the Wild in five games a year ago.

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The Minnesota players see it through a different lens, shaped by a strong belief in their own locker room.

"A play or two and a lot could be different," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "This isn't last year."

Minnesota knows the games this weekend in Chicago were there for the taking, each a 1-goal game with three minutes to play.

The Wild players know they have a better team than a year ago.

They know they rallied from being down 2-0 to defeat Colorado.

They know they are very hard to beat at home, where they own one of the loudest buildings in the NHL.

They know all this. The Hawks say they know it, too.

That remains to be seen.

Still waiting to play a 60-minute game and searching for the urgency they will yet need to display this postseason, the Hawks said all the right things after handling the Wild 4-1 at the UC Sunday afternoon, taking a 2-0 series lead to Minnesota for Game 3 Tuesday.

"We have a lot of respect for Minnesota," said Duncan Keith, who played a team-high 25:23. "We saw what happened in the Colorado series. There's a lot of character in that room.

"They fought all season to make the playoffs. They fought all series to beat Colorado. We expect a big fight. We're not taking anything for granted."

Maybe not, but the Hawks know they will not lose four of the next five. That will not happen.

What's to be determined is how much time off the Hawks will get between series, knowing their opponent from Southern California is going to be very big, very physical and very mean.

So the Hawks have within their reach a very short series -- and some serious rest -- if they're prepared for what awaits them in Game 3 in Minnesota.

Exactly a year ago Monday, they had to know what was coming and the Wild -- trailing 2-0 in the series -- took it to the Hawks from start to finish, Corey Crawford being the only reason Game 3 went to overtime before the Wild won.

"Last year, they came out flying in Game 3," Keith said. "We have to be ready for that."

The formula for this postseason has been to rely on Crawford, rely on Crawford and then rely on Crawford a little more. That keeps the Hawks in it until they flip the switch and bust the game wide open.

While the Hawks were considerably better Sunday than in Game 1 against the Wild, especially defensively and exiting their zone, again in Game 2 they failed to bury Minnesota until the final minutes of the match, forcing Crawford to make big save after big save.

"That was a more complete game. I thought we shut them down pretty good," Crawford said. "We have confidence, but we can't get complacent. We have to keep working hard.

"They're going to bring their best game up there and we're gonna have to play safe and smart and put the puck in the right areas. We have to make sure we're ready from the start."

Knowing his team's penchant for slow starts and slumbering motivation, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville continues to push buttons and send messages.

Kris Versteeg and Jeremy Morin were in the lineup Sunday replacing the injured Andrew Shaw and healthy scratch Brandon Bollig, and Nick Leddy sat most of the third period after a rough day and a prominent role in the Wild's only goal.

So Quenneville will not be shy about letting his team know what awaits them Tuesday.

"They're gonna be excited going home with a lot of enthusiasm and a loud building," Quenneville said of the Wild. "We want to make sure we get a reasonable start and put ourselves in the game."

And he won't allow them to start thinking about the winner of the Anaheim-Los Angeles series.

"There are no easy games. There are no easy series," Quenneville said. "Never get ahead of yourselves, particularly in the playoffs."

That is easier said than done, and postgame Sunday in the Hawks' dressing room was a smiling captain -- an unusual, yet refreshing change in demeanor for Jonathan Toews.

Maybe it was the ability to take a deep breath for the first time since the Wild series a year ago, the last time the Hawks felt really confident with a little margin for error.

"We're still taking it one game at a time," Toews insisted. "You go into every game planning to win. Sometimes that goes your way, sometimes it doesn't. It doesn't really matter.

"We're going to have a challenge, a real challenge going up there playing on the road these next couple of games, so we'll focus on the next one. It's going to have to be the best game that we've had all series for sure."

If they play their best game, the Hawks will all but end the series and have a chance to save themselves several extra periods of hockey.

But knowing these Hawks, they will not show their best until forced to show their best.

Game 3 will give them a perfect -- and timely -- opportunity to alter the script.

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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