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Blackhawks’ next task requires full attention

Updated: May 15, 2014 11:00PM



It shouldn’t have been so difficult.

That’s the knee-jerk, thank-goodness-that’s-over response to the Blackhawks’ much-too-arduous second-round survival of the pesky Minnesota Wild.

The more thoughtful, deliberate response is the same as the first, but with fewer hyphenated phrases.

This was a series to get through, nothing more. The Hawks knew it would be a chore, like sanding paint off wood by hand, and it was indeed that. The Wild gave them more than they wanted, and the Hawks seemed impatient for the series to end so they could get on with more meaningful duties. That’s risky.

As the Hawks head to the Western Conference finals against either the Ducks or the Kings, there are lessons to be learned from the Wild series. The first lesson is about that risk:

◆ Although the Hawks are very much capable of playing down to an opponents’ level, stop doing that!

One game of giving an upstart team such as the Wild a reason to be optimistic about their place in the world is fine. But grinding out a six-game series that felt like 10 games is excessive. When you have as much talent as the Hawks do, you pat a team such as the Wild on its head and send it off to summer camp.

◆ The Hawks are still the best team in the NHL.

How’s that for a declarative sentence, Anaheim or Los Angeles? The Hawks are better than you. Probably sounds premature. But the Wild series showed that the Hawks can play different styles and win, though they’d much prefer to play at top speed. The Wild tried different speeds. One game they were as plodding as a bulldog, the next as fast as a greyhound. It was like Rocky Balboa switching from southpaw to a right-handed stance, but with fewer “yos.’’ It didn’t work for the Wild, and the Hawks should be able to handle whatever style is thrown their way in the conference final and beyond.

◆ That Andrew Shaw guy, he’s pretty valuable.

When Shaw departed Game 1 with an undisclosed lower-body injury that sure looked like a knee injury, the Hawks were left without their leading agitator. Shaw has a knack for getting in front of the opposing net, which is to say he’s happy to donate his body to physical abuse. The Hawks sorely missed his presence in the second round. The Hawks surely pray he will be back for the Western Conference final.

◆ Hey, Q, sometimes it’s OK to stay the course.

Those of you who read this space regularly know that I wish Hawks coach Joel Quenneville would put Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell on the same line and watch other teams wilt in terror. But he prefers spreading around the talent over three lines, which is maddening at times, but not unreasonable. In the Wild series, Quenneville couldn’t stop pulling the arm on the slot machine, and all sorts of different combinations spun onto the ice. It had the whiff of panic to it, when there was no call for such a thing. Cut back on the tinkering, Q. It will all work out.

◆ The Hawks can be ­forgiven if they coast at times.

I’m not saying I have definitive proof they were coasting against the Wild, but it has been a looooooong year. There was the lengthy post-Stanley Cup celebration. Ten Blackhawks played in the Sochi Olympics, which shouldn’t be confused with a pleasure cruise. As defending NHL champs, the Hawks received everybody’s best most nights. It was ­fatiguing. If they have any feeling left in their thighs, it’s mostly pain. So if there was a series in which the Hawks might have trouble motivating themselves, this was it. They had no problem getting motivated for the first round against the Blues, the NHL’s best team for much of the season. There might have been moments against the Wild when the foot was off the accelerator.

◆ The Hawks indeed can turn it on when they want.

Sorry all you hockey purists, but it’s true. You’d prefer that your champions be a paragon of consistency, but that’s not how this team rolls on skates. Any veteran observer of the Hawks knew there was a good chance things would go their way in overtime Tuesday night. So there was Patrick Kane, in the right place at the right time, picking up a crazy bounce off the boards and beating Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov with a backhander.

Maybe there’s no such thing as a crazy bounce when you’re the Hawks. Lesson learned.



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