By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) For a team with a 3-1 series lead over the Minnesota Wild, the Blackhawks sure don’t sound like a team that is happy with its play.
“I think yesterday’s game, that’s probably the minimal standard of what we’re looking for. And let’s go,” head coach Joel Quenneville said Wednesday at the United Center, about 13 hours after his team posted a 3-0 shutout in St. Paul.
And those should be the expectations for a team with all the talent to win its second Stanley Cup in four years.
There’s no question the Blackhawks are the better team in their Western Conference Quarterfinal matchup with the Wild, but it hasn’t always looked like it, despite the commanding 3-1 lead in the series. Other than their dominating performance in Game 2 at the United Center, the Blackhawks’ intensity has mostly been matched by the Wild, which has led to two overtime games, one resulting in the Wild’s only victory in the series.
“We’ve had trouble getting out of the first round the last couple years. You hear people say the first round is sometimes the toughest,” winger Patrick Sharp, who has four goals in the last two games, said. “You have to credit Minnesota and the teams we’ve played the last couple years, it feels like every shift you’re fighting for ice out there. You’re trying to get to the net and score goals.
“I’ll agree with you and say we can play better.”
Indeed, the first round has been tough for the Blackhawks since they won the Cup in 2010. But the difference this year is that they are winning the majority of the games, an indication of the talent and potential this team has going forward in the playoffs.
“I don’t know if we’ve really ramped it up to playoff intensity yet and to where we could be,” Patrick Kane said. “It’s something to strive for and improve on and hopefully we can get there tomorrow (in Game 5).”
Captain Jonathan Toews indicated that the Wild may have had an advantage going into the series because they had to fight to get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while the Blackhawks were mostly on cruise control the last few weeks of the season.
That may explain the slow start in Game 1 and the lackluster effort in Game 3, but Toews is expecting a much different level of play when the Hawks try to close out the Wild Thursday night at the United Center.
“We’ll learn from Game 3 in this series that we had the chance to really take control of this series,” Toews said. “We knew exactly what to expect from their team that that first game in their building was going to be a really good one for them and to be able to throw that effort back in their face would have been huge for us. And showing them that even their best might not be good enough and we didn’t do that at all.”
The Blackhawks now have three chances to eliminate the Wild, but no one in that locker room wants to get back on the team charter and head to St. Paul. Games 6 and 7 would be played back-to-back Saturday and Sunday if necessary.
“This is a chance to kind of redeem ourselves for the way we played in Game 3,” Toews said. “Everybody is saying it. We haven’t played our best game in this series so we have to get as close to that as we can.”
That’s a scary thought for the Wild, who now have to win three straight games against this team.
For more Blackhawks coverage throughout the playoffs, follow Adam on Twitter (@AdamHoge).