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Blackhawks’ playoff trend has been to improve as series progresses

GAME 1

at Hawks 4

Bruins (3OT) 3

GAME 2

Bruins 2

at Hawks (OT) 1GAME 3

at Bruins 2

Hawks 0

GAME 4

Hawks 6

at Bruins (OT) 5GAME 5

7 p.m. Saturday

at Hawks, Ch. 5

GAME 6

7 p.m. Monday

at Bruins, Ch. 5

GAME 7 if necessary

7 p.m. Wednesday

at Hawks, Ch. 5

Updated: July 23, 2013 6:15AM



The mercurial nature of the Stanley Cup playoffs is on display in all its glory during the entertaining Final between the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins.

The Hawks had a Tuukka Rask problem until they didn’t. The Bruins dominated the faceoff circle until they didn’t. Zdeno Chara is a scourge one moment and a minus-3 the next. On Wednesday morning, Corey Crawford was a Conn Smythe candidate. On Thursday morning, coach Joel Quenneville was asked if Ray Emery might be a better option. Home ice is cherished but as dependable as the next faceoff. If you’re counting on your ‘‘compete level’’ to make the difference, you might as well lean on ‘‘tails never fails’’ because the other guys’ compete level might trump yours.

Like everything else in this series, Game 5 on Saturday night at the United Center can go either way. The Bruins are the toughest opponent the Hawks have faced in their four seasons as Stanley Cup contenders. That the Hawks got the shootout they prefer in Game 4 and squeaked by 6-5 in overtime to avoid a 3-1 series deficit confirmed that, if you had your doubts. With each team as resilient as the other, this series seems destined to end with a clink or a clank.

But after turning the series around in Game 4, one Hawks trend is still in play: This team learns well.

The Hawks have a knack for finishing stronger than they started. They are 6-6 in Games 1-3 of the playoffs but 8-1 in Games 4-7 — including 4-1 on the road. No other team in the playoffs is close. The Bruins are 10-2 in Games 1-3 and 4-4 in Games 4-7.

It’s unlikely a coincidence. In the last four seasons, the Hawks are 15-15 in Games 1-3 and 20-6 in Games 4-7. Only the Red Wings (8-13/12-9) come close to that kind of late-series uptick, and the Hawks won that battle with a flurry at the end — winning the final three games for a 4-3 series victory.

The conclusion to draw is that the Hawks struggle initially against opponents’ attempts to neutralize their unique speed and skill but eventually figure it out. Sometimes it’s a lineup change. Sometimes it’s Quenneville’s line-jumbling. Sometimes it’s just desperation. But they always figure it out.

‘‘The first couple of games you’re always feeling out a team to see what they’re like and what they’re going to give the rest of the series,’’ Patrick Kane said. ‘‘It’s important for us to get stronger as the series goes on. We’re in a great situation now.’’

‘‘I don’t know if we play harder or stronger,’’ defenseman Duncan Keith said. ‘‘Things get changed up. You saw the line combinations [in Game 4]. A lot of it is just chemistry. Once you get things figured out against lines and teams, maybe that helps a bit.’’

In a close series such as this one, a little bit can make the difference. It’s not as if the Hawks trample their opponents as each series ensues. They’re like a boxer who measures his opponent in the early rounds and wins on points.

The Bruins are the X-factor in this equation. They might be measuring the Hawks for all we know.

‘‘That 8-1 record doesn’t really mean much if we don’t take care of business [in Game 5],’’ forward Patrick Sharp said. ‘‘It’s a tough stat to figure out. All I can say is that we want to get better as the series goes on.’’



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