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Even though Blackhawks won, true desperation wasn’t there

Hawks goalie Corey Crawford stops shot by Kings winger JustWilliams during third period Game 5 Saturday. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

Hawks goalie Corey Crawford stops a shot by Kings winger Justin Williams during the third period of Game 5 on Saturday. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

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Updated: July 10, 2013 6:56AM

With the cushion of a 3-1 series lead against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals, Patrick Kane said the Blackhawks were ready to put the hammer down
in Game 5 on Saturday at the United Center.

‘‘I think we’re treating it like it’s Game 7 mentally, and you have to win,’’ Kane said before scoring three goals, including the game-winner at 11:40 of the second overtime, in the Hawks’ 4-3 victory.

That’s much easier said than done with hockey in general and with the Hawks in particular. Since the Stanley Cup-winning season of 2010, the Hawks had played their best when some level of peril existed.

In a similar scenario in 2010 — leading the Vancouver Canucks 3-1 in the second round — the Hawks blew a chance to clinch the series in Game 5 at the United Center, then won convincingly in Game 6 in Vancouver to avoid the roll-of-the-dice Game 7.

The Hawks did a good job of treating Game 6s like Game 7s that season. They also clinched their first-round series at Nashville and won the Stanley Cup at Philadelphia in Game 6s.

But Game 5 is a different story. No matter how hard you try to convince yourself it’s Game 7 of the conference finals, it sometimes comes out looking more like Game 7
of the regular season. Desperation often is the ultimate motivator in hockey, and the Kings had the real thing in Game 5. All the Hawks could do was play a mind game.

That set the stage for a defining game Saturday. With the red-hot Boston Bruins already in the Stanley Cup Final after a sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 5 against the Kings would say a lot about just how far the Hawks had come in the playoffs and just how closely they were following the 2010 team’s upward arc to the Cup.

The telltale question in Game 5
was simple: Knowing they had two more chances to clinch the series, could the Hawks manufacture enough will to win to trump the Kings’ desperation?

The answer — it figures — was yes and no. The Hawks looked like a team destined for a championship in the first period, swarming the Kings’ zone with one flurry after another, playing like the desperate team and taking a 2-0 lead less than six minutes into the game on goals by Duncan Keith and Kane.

But just when it looked like the Hawks had reached the next level, they took a step back and struggled to finish the job. They frittered away momentum and, ultimately, the lead when the Kings’ Anze Kopitar scored on a rebound on a power play early in the third period.

But with a little peril in the waning moments of regulation, the Hawks responded on Kane’s goal with 3:52 left on a perfect pass from Bryan Bickell, who got away with a trip of Justin Williams to gain possession of the puck.

But even that was too much comfort for the Hawks. Seconds from victory and a berth in the Final, the Hawks allowed the tying goal when Mike Richards redirected a shot by Kopitar past Corey Crawford with 9.4 seconds left in regulation.

It all worked out — somehow. After Jonathan Toews and Kane missed connections and opportunities a couple of times in overtime, they finally got it right when Kane scored off a pass from Toews in the second overtime to give the Hawks the victory and send them to the Final.

It doesn’t matter how they got there. But let the record show they did it their way. The hard way. It seems to be the only way they know.

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