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Quenneville not rattled by Blackhawks living dangerously

Updated: May 22, 2014 11:23PM



Oh, the humanity. Can the Blackhawks recover from that stunning collapse in Game 2 of the Western Conference final?

Anyone mystified over the sudden reversal of fortune that turned a 2-0 lead into a 6-2 loss on Wednesday night at the United Center hasn’t been paying attention. This is what the Hawks do. This is a team that lives on the edge, can’t stand prosperity and thrives on responding to adversity.

If anything, the feeling of complete control with a 2-0 lead and all the momentum in the second period of Game 2 was the anomaly. The disaster that followed was a bit extreme. But as degree-of-difficulty goes, the Hawks are a long, long way from dangling upside down in a straightjacket.

Even Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, who lives in the moment like everybody else in hockey, was able to put the latest predicament in perspective, easily reciting the litany of daring escapes his team has performed en route to the Stanley Cup.

“We’ve been in some tough spots,” Quenneville said. “Look at last year — down 2-1 to Boston; down 3-1 to Detroit. Down 2-0 to St. Louis [in this year’s opening round]; 2-2 in the Minnesota series. It’s 1-1 [in this year’s conference final]. There’s a lot of hockey left in this series. Two really good teams. A lot to be decided.”

Of course the Hawks would rather be up 2-0 against the Kings. But they’re not heading into Game 3 at Staples Center lamenting the fact that they should be up 2-0 and are not — a lingering regret that could haunt less-experienced playoff teams.

On the scale of postseason difficulties, being 1-1 with the Kings rates a little dicier than being 1-1 against the Red Wings last year — the Hawks eventually fell behind 3-1 in the series and won in seven games; and on a par with losing Game 1 to the Canucks in 2010 — the Hawks won the next three games, including two on the road, and clinched the series in six.

While not exactly a comfort zone, the Hawks are in familiar territory where their playoff-series history of starting slowly and finishing strong — and winning on the road — under Quenneville bodes well: Since 2010 the Hawks are 19-19 in Games 1-3 of a playoff series, but 27-7 in Games 4-7. Losing home-ice advantage is not as daunting when you consider the Hawks have won at least one road game in their last 12 playoff series.

“It’s one game,” forward Ben Smith said. “You move on from it. We’re still in a good spot heading to L.A. It’s one of those things.”

There is always the danger that the Hawks eventually will find themselves in a spot they can’t wiggle their way out of. The Kings are a dangerous, well-coached, well-balanced championship team with an added dose of confidence after turning a 2-0 deficit into a 6-2 victory against the defending Cup champions on the road.

But the Hawks aren’t just shrugging off the Game 2 loss as a shot that didn’t hurt. The Hawks felt it — starting from the top.

“I woke up [Thursday] morning way more angry than I was [after] the game,” Quenneville said. “Normally it’s the other way around.”

The Hawks are comfortable dealing with adversity, but Quenneville was adamant that he doesn’t want his team being too casual with the unpleasantness of Game 2.

“I think there’s got to be a reaction. That’s what we’re looking for,” he said. “That’s how you get past it — doing something about it. Not just being satisfied — ‘Hey, we got beat.’ I think there’s anger involved. That’s not a bad thing to happen.”

It appears the players have received that message. “We want to let the pain we felt sink in,” Smith said. “We want to be more hungry. We want more edge to our game — that would make a big difference. Just be angrier out there, play with more compete. It’s up to us to learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The Hawks-Kings series — a matchup of two veteran, resilient, well-coached, championship teams — still seems destined to come down to a glorious finish with one team challenging the other’s intangible strength: The Hawks’ ability to close out a series in six games; and the Kings’ ability to win a seven-game series on the road. It’s unlikely the unexpected turn in Game 2 altered that course.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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