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Blues’ Hitchcock: It’s Blackhawks’ will, not their skill

The best team has lost in the first three games of the Blackhawks-Blues series — just one reason this is the most captivating playoff series in the NHL. Nobody knows what will happen next.

This first-round series has offered a range of drama worthy of a Stanley Cup Final — comedy, tragedy, suspense, antagonism, last-second heroics and great, competitive hockey. The best team winning is about the only thing that hasn’t happened yet.

And it might never happen. With the Blues leading 2-1 heading into Game 4 at the United Center on Wednesday night, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has correctly boiled down this series to what it really is: a battle of wills. The Blues’ biggest hurdle is that they’re up against a team that can will itself to victory. Their biggest advantage is that they appear to be learning that invaluable trait of a champion.

“[The Hawks are] not a defending champion because they have skill. It’s because they have resolve. You’re trying to beat resolve,” Hitchcock said after the Hawks’ 2-0 victory in Game 3. “You’re not trying to beat their skill. Everybody’s got skill. And it is one hell of a challenge.

“Sometimes you do it, and sometimes you don’t. But I can tell you one thing: Every time we play like we play, we get better as a team and better as an organization. And we get closer and closer.”

This is what the Hawks should fear most — that they’re facing a well-coached, talented team that’s learning quickly how to raise its game to meet the challenge. The Blues should miss injured captain David Backes more than the Hawks miss suspended defenseman Brent Seabrook. But it was the Blues who dominated Game 3 when the Hawks had an opportunity to impose their will after Jonathan Toews’ fortuitous first-period goal that somehow got past Ryan Miller.

“They know we’re not going away easy,” Hitchcock said. “If we’re not good enough at the end, that’s fine. But we’re not going away in any game. This is the level we’re going to play at.

“We get Backes back in the next two or three games, we’re going to go even higher. And if that isn’t good enough, it isn’t good enough. But it has nothing to do with blowing games. There’s a certain resolve that is required to win a championship. And that team over there has got it, and we’re going to take it back from them.”

That only adds to the fascination of this series. The Blues are ready to show what they’ve learned from last season’s opening-round loss to the defending champion Kings — when the Blues led the series 2-0 but lost four in a row, including a crushing 3-2 overtime loss in Game  5 at home.

“We’ve got to find another gear from a resolve standpoint to go just a little bit further,” Hitchcock said.

They appear capable of doing that. But they’re up against a championship team that practically defines that quality. Game 4 is where the Hawks often start taking off. In the previous four postseasons, they’re 15-15 in Games 1-3 of a series and 22-6 in Games 4-7.

This is where the Hawks’ will to win starts kicking in. Hitchcock’s team already has suffered the uncanniness of Toews. How many times does Miller stop the shot that Toews took in the first period in Game 3 — 98, 99? With Toews, it not only gets through, but it holds up.

Uncanny, indeed. But it’s going to take more than that to win this series. It’s up to the Hawks to recognize what they’re up against and do what they do best.


Twitter: @MarkPotash

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