CHICAGO | As they rubbed sleep out of their eyes Wednesday, 11 hours after their 2 a.m. arrival from the Twin Cities, the Blackhawks acknowledged the necessity of a much better performance against the Minnesota Wild.
If the Hawks believe the 3-1, near choke-hold advantage they now possess is a comfort zone, they only have to recall their own quarterfinals performance against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. Down 3-0 without home-ice advantage, the Hawks stormed back to tie the series before finally losing in overtime on the road in Game 7.
Quenneville and his players believe their 3-0 victory in Game 4 Tuesday was only a starting point to achieve the desired level of play to close out the Western Conference quarterfinals tonight at the United Center. They are in an advantageous position in a playoff series they last experienced in their 2010 Stanley Cup run.
“I think we should be looking to improve off of the levels we’re at,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think (Tuesday’s) game was probably the minimal standard we should be looking for. Whether it’s patience with the puck or simplicity in our game, I think the energy and the compete level has got to be only one way (up).”
Forward Patrick Sharp would have hard time trying to find another level himself. He’s the Hawks’ leading points producer so far with four goals – tied for the NHL postseason lead — and one assist. But he believes the team cannot afford to save their peak level for a later playoff round.
“That sounds like a good idea, but we’ve had trouble getting out of the first round the past couple of years,” Sharp said. “You hear a lot of people saying the first round sometimes the toughest. You’ve got to credit Minnesota and the teams we’ve played the last couple of years – it feels like every shift you’re fighting for ice out there.”
Many of the elements of the Hawks great regular-season have been in place against the Wild – stingy Corey Crawford goaltending, a tough defense and penalty kill, and contributions from the third and fourth lines. The laggard is center Jonathan Toews’ first line, which has produced just one goal via Marian Hossa’s Game 1 power-play score.
“It’s easy to get frustrated in situations like this,” said Toews. “But you don’t ever want to say that word because it gives the other team props for what they’re doing. I think at this point we’re all understand that we’re working hard for quality scoring chances. And they’re working very hard to limit those chances.
“As a line with ‘Hoss’ and ‘Sader’ (Brandon Saad) and myself, I think we know that once one goes in, we’ll get that confidence they can all go in again. Maybe the rest of the game flows a little bit more for us. We’re just making plays and keeping the puck alive in the offensive zone, where sometimes (before) we’re fighting a little bit and we’re maybe trying a little too hard.
“No time to get frustrated. We’ll stay with it and we’ll keep working. There’s a lot of skill and eventually it will go in for us.”