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Updated: May 4, 2014 9:46PM
Two games into the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Blackhawks were down 2-0. So were the Minnesota Wild. Yet here they are, still playing in the second round while the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche lament lost leads.
So after two wins that weren’t nearly as easy as the final scores suggested, the Hawks believe they’re still in a series that’s not nearly as easy as it looks.
“You don’t want to get carried away,” Jonathan Toews said after Sunday’s 4-1 victory put the Hawks up 2-0 in their second-round series against Minnesota. “You’ve seen in some other series, whether you’re up 2-0 or 3-0, there’s no time to get comfortable at all. You have to keep playing and keep improving every single game as you go through a series because it’s only going to get tougher.”
Yes, the Hawks have won six straight games. Yes, Bryan Bickell has flipped the postseason switch, adding a goal and two assists in Sunday’s win. Yes, the Hawks have been suffocating the Wild’s top two lines, with Jonathan Toews acting as Zach Parise’s designated chaperone.
But despite all that, the Hawks haven’t exactly been dominant. The Wild erased a 2-0 third-period deficit in Game 1 to make a game of it. And they were a spectacular Corey Crawford stick swat away from doing it again on Sunday. All the Hawks have done is hold serve at home.
“We weren’t that far off,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “That game was hanging for us. … Last series, I thought we did a great job of staying positive. Despite the fact that we were down 2-0, we still believed that we could win. That to me is the No. 1 thing. We’re a play or two each game away from at least a split right now.”
The difference is, the Hawks’ biggest stars are making those plays, and the Wild’s aren’t. A game after Patrick Kane was the hero, the Hawks got three assists from Marian Hossa, another goal from Jonathan Toews, the big game from Bickell, and a combined 10 blocked shots from Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Meanwhile, Minnesota’s three goals this series have come from a defenseman, a third-liner, and a fourth-liner.
“It’s a team game,” said Parise, who had 10 points in the first round. “We’re down. We should all feel pressure that we’re down 2-0. That’s all.”
For the second straight game, the Hawks held a 2-0 lead entering the third period. Toews beat Mikko Koivu to a loose puck in the crease after Ilya Bryzgalov made a terrific save on a Hossa breakaway sprung by Bickell in the first. And Brandon Saad ended a 19-game scoring drought with a nasty wrist shot in the final minute of the second.
But after firing just four shots on goal through the first 30 minutes of the game, the Wild turned it on and had the Hawks on their heels. Fourth-liner Cody McCormick scored two minutes into the third to make a game of it, and Minnesota had a couple of golden chances to tie it before Bickell scored on a two-on-one with 2:45 left, and Saad chipped in an empty-netter to seal it.
The Wild — noticeably fatigued from their seven-game series victory over Colorado — haven’t been at their best in this series. Fourth-string goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has been shaky at times. And the Hawks have often been clicking on all cylinders.
Yet in both games, Minnesota was right there in the third period. Pushing. Pressing. Making a game of it.
The Hawks expect nothing less as the series shifts north, where a rabid hockey-mad fan base awaits.
“There are no easy games, no easy series,” Joel Quenneville said. “Never get ahead of yourself, particularly in the playoffs.”