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Blackhawks must fight dire with fire

Updated: June 29, 2014 6:38AM



There was an eerie calm in the Blackhawks’ dressing room after the 5-2 flameout Monday night against the Los Angeles Kings. Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane stood at their lockers and spoke in measured tones, using mild platitudes and showing a quiet confidence.

They shrugged and talked about winning one game and going from there. They nodded and said that, yes, the fact that they’ve come back from a 3-1 series deficit before, just last year, does help. They talked about finding their “swagger” again.

This didn’t seem like a team on the brink of elimination. This seemed like a team mired in a brief slump in mid-January.

The most heated term they used to describe their mindset was “frustrated.” Not furious. Not embarrassed. Not concerned. Not desperate. Like it or not, the Hawks don’t do furious. They don’t do desperate. No matter the situation, no matter the challenge, the Hawks always convey that unwavering sense of confidence, one that borders on arrogance. It’s a championship mindset, and it’s the hallmark of a great team that never feels it’s out of it.

But, man, you would have liked to have seen someone angry in there. Someone breathing fire. Someone taking themselves and their teammates to task for a disastrous first half of the game that saw key players make costly mistakes — Brent Seabrook getting outworked down low by Kings forwards camping out in front of Corey Crawford, Keith with a turnover that led to a goal, Patrick Sharp with an unnecessary roughing penalty, Andrew Shaw with a foolish cross-check 190 feet from his own goal.

Toews said after Game 3 that the Hawks need to play “[ticked] off.” That’s good. But they need to actually be ticked off, too. The last three games weren’t about puck luck, about “the bounces” going against the Hawks. They were about a Kings team that looks faster, deeper and flat-out better than the Hawks do.

Yet the Hawks remained cool and collected, repeating the things they said after Game 4 in Detroit last year almost verbatim. To be fair, it’s understandable.

“We were in the same position last year,” Kane said. “You can look back and say, ‘We came out and were successful, so why can’t we do it again?’ It’s tough with the position we’re in right now, but at the same time, we still feel good about our team in here, and we all know we’ve done it before. You have to have that confidence of trying to win the next game and see what happens.”

Yes, you have to have that confidence. And clearly, even battling whatever injuries and mental fatigue they insist they’re not battling, the Hawks still do have it. And it’d be beyond foolish to write this team off down 3-1 — they’re too good, too proud, to go down without a fight.

But this is as dire as it gets for a team.

The Hawks can take solace in the fact the Kings are the streakiest team in the NHL — six times during this season, they’ve lost at least three consecutive games, including twice in the postseason. They can even take solace in the fact that the Kings have proved that no lead is safe — they came back from 3-0 down against the San Jose Sharks in the first round, then won Games 6 and 7 against the Anaheim Ducks after losing three in a row.

But the Hawks shouldn’t be looking for solace and comfort. They should be most uncomfortable right now, and using that discomfort as motivation — motivation to change their mindset, to change their suddenly passive style of defense and penalty-killing, to change their fortunes.

It’s time to get angry. Time to get desperate. Time to do something — anything — to turn this thing around.

Because there’s a fine line between defiance and denial.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkLazerus



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