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Blackhawks know if you cruise, you lose



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Blackhawks at CANUCKS

The facts: 9 p.m., CSN+, 560-AM.

Updated: April 21, 2013 10:25PM

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — In other years, in other circumstances, there might have been shattered sticks, slammed lockers and profane tirades. If the Blackhawks had indeed been “fighting for our lives,” as Joel Quenneville recalled previous pre-playoff pushes, the Hawks’ dressing room Saturday night might have looked a lot gloomier, a lot angrier, a lot messier.

But Jonathan Toews didn’t seem too broken up by the shootout loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. Corey Crawford shrugged off the fluky goal he gave up from center ice. Quenneville had mostly good things to say about his team’s effort.

It was a loss. Whatever.

“We’re less worried about the result that comes at the end of the game,” Toews said earlier. “Whether we get two points or not, we’re focused on the little details, we’re focused on improving as a team and everyone doing their part and being responsible.”

What matters now, for these last six days of the regular season, isn’t what happens on the scoreboard. It’s what happens on the ice, in the dressing room and in the Hawks’ heads. With the Presidents’ Trophy — an immense accomplishment, albeit a seemingly half-cursed one — now a probable capper to the Hawks’ extraordinary regular season, the team is on cruise control. The games matter little. But how the Hawks play in those games matters a lot.

The trick is staying sharp. The key is maintaining an edge. Because the fear is having to grope around for that light switch and flip it on once the playoffs begin next week. Three of the last four Presidents’ Trophy-winning teams couldn’t do it and lost in the first round.

“For teams that start hot, maybe sometimes they fall off a little bit,” Patrick Kane said of the apparent curse of finishing first. “That’s one of the things we don’t want to do here; [we want to] make sure we keep playing the same way.”

For most of last week, Quenne-ville said he didn’t want to change anything, didn’t want to shake up his lineup too much, just for that reason. He was wary of ceding momentum in favor of rest for his top guys, saying the Hawks’ ability to roll four lines already had lessened the wear and tear on Toews, Kane and Marian Hossa.

But once the Hawks clinched the top seed in the Western Conference, he softened his stance. Now, with four games left in six days — Monday at rival Vancouver, Wednesday at eliminated Edmonton, Friday at home against lowly Calgary and Saturday at physical St. Louis — Quenneville is toying with the idea of sitting certain players to make sure they’re in top physical shape for the postseason grind.

It’s a tough line to walk — fine-tuning and staying sharp while also taking advantage of their position in the standings. After three months of tense hockey, the two weekend games at the United Center were anything but playofflike atmospheres — overtime games without any real drama. Meanwhile, whoever gets the eighth seed — perhaps Columbus, Detroit or Dallas — will have been in full-blown playoff mode for weeks already.

“We just want to better every aspect of our game going into the final run and carry it out in the playoffs,” said Andrew Shaw, who wasn’t worried about the Hawks losing their edge. “We’ve just got to get on each other’s back and push each other. All the veteran players we have in here will make sure of that.”

If they don’t, history suggests the Hawks — with a dream regular season drawing to a sleepy close — could be in for a rude awakening in the first round.

“I think it’s going to be different for us,” Shaw said. “We’re a great team. We push each other. We work hard. And I think good things are going to come from that.”

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