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Updated: May 12, 2014 11:28AM
After a lousy, listless first period Sunday night, the Blackhawks heard boos from the United Center crowd. They deserved every single one of them and more.
They have a habit of flipping the switch only when they’re good and ready during games, but here might have been an example of the switch being flipped for them. The power went on after those boos, the energy poured out and the Hawks beat the Minnesota Wild 2-1.
This is no way to go through life, but it’s the only way the ultra-talented Hawks know. Jonathan Toews knocked in the game-winner in the third period off a scrum in front of the Wild net. It was the perfect reminder to the home team that talent requires exertion, too.
‘‘As a group, we always recognize when we don’t bring the right effort,’’ Toews said. ‘‘I don’t think we were flat by any means, but I think slowly as the game went along, we found ways to play better as a five-man unit.’’
The Hawks lead this second-round series 3-2 after dropping the previous two games to the Wild. They can wrap it up Tuesday night with a victory in Minnesota. Will they? Depends on how itchy their switch finger is.
‘‘Maybe we have another level, but I thought we played really well [Sunday],’’ said goalie Corey Crawford, who was great in a crazed third period, stopping all 14 shots he faced.
The Wild have not been what’s wrong with the Hawks in this series. The Hawks have been what’s wrong with the Hawks.
It’s why coach Joel Quenneville was talking about the need for his team to be ‘‘grittier’’ in Game 5. It’s how Erik Haula skated past Patrick Kane and Brent Seabrook to give the Wild a 1-0 first-period lead.
If you are a rational person, you might be asking yourself: Why would the defending Stanley Cup champions need their coach to remind them to play with more grittiness, toughness and resolve?
The answer to that question is one I’ve been harping on for weeks: because these are the Hawks. It’s not a very gratifying answer, and in the end, it might be a painful answer. But it happens to be true.
Sometimes the Hawks play when they feel like it. There’s no explanation for that other than they know they have more talent than any other team in the NHL. We’ve seen it all season. They look distracted or uninvolved, and then they turn it on, the way they did with six straight playoff victories before the last two losses in Minnesota.
That attitude very well could be fatal. And just because Hawks players parrot their coach’s message about the need for more heart and effort doesn’t mean their actions will match their words.
But when something has worked for you in the past, you tend to think it will work in the future. And so the Hawks remember trailing the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 in a second-round series last year and winning in seven games. And they remember trailing the Vancouver Canucks 3-0 in a first-round series in 2011 before losing in seven games.
In the Wild series, the Hawks have seemed unable to locate the necessary enthusiasm at times. They couldn’t find it early Sunday, which is why the boos rained down on them as they left the ice after the first period.
‘‘We always appreciate when the crowd gets going and gives us energy in a way,’’ Toews said.
Was the Hawks’ turnaround Sunday a matter of cause and effect? It’s impossible to say, but they did play better after that. And it certainly was all about what they did, not what the Wild did.
I don’t mean to demean the Wild. They’re a fine team. They’re an example of the grittiness that Quenneville covets so much. But they’re not the Blackhawks. They want to slow a game to an ooze. The Hawks shouldn’t lose to a team like this in a seven-game series.
Wild coach Mike Yeo says a team can learn to win as it goes along. Perhaps, but not his team against this Hawks team. Maybe I am demeaning the Wild.
No more goofing around for the Hawks. No more playing down to an opponent. Right?
Yeah, about that. It probably will happen again.
These are the Hawks. And somebody probably needs to remind them of another truism before it’s too late: because it’s the Cup. Time to wake up for good.