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Blackhawks’ easy season has turned tough

Updated: May 21, 2013 3:33PM



DETROIT — Let’s face it, the Blackhawks have literally and figuratively skated through this season. Almost everything has come easy for them. They’ve not experienced even the vaguest feelings of impending doom.

Those feelings might have started seeping under their door Monday night after a 3-1 loss to the Red Wings in Game 3. You want disconcerting? OK, here’s disconcerting: The top-seeded Hawks played a lot harder Monday night than they did in a lousy Game 2 defeat, and it didn’t much matter.

If you recall, the theme after Saturday’s loss was that the Hawks needed to display more effort. And, of course, the underlying message was that, if they did, this Western Conference semifinal would look a whole lot different. That came with a knowing wink signifying that the Red Wings were about to be history.

At best, we have a series here. Detroit is up 2-1 heading into Game 4 Thursday at Joe Louis Arena. At worst, well, you don’t want to go there, Hawks fans.

“We’ve got to come out with a better effort,’’ defenseman Brent Seabrook said.

The problem Monday wasn’t the effort. It was that the Red Wings have indeed improved as the playoffs have gone on, just as their coach, Mike Babcock, had asserted after Game 2. People in Chicago preferred to stick with the storyline: the Hawks’ superior talent would eventually win out. And maybe it will.

All I know is that Jonathan Toews roared out of the locker room for the Hawks on Monday night and never let up — and that didn’t matter, either.

“We’ll come back even harder the next one,’’ he said. “We’re confident we’ll find a way to win.’’

The second period was a killer for the Hawks. Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist badly faked out Seabrook, then beat Corey Crawford to give the Red Wings a 1-0 lead.

“They smelled blood, and they kept coming,’’ Seabrook said.

The fans at Joe Louis had barely stopped roaring when Drew Miller cleaned up a loose puck near the crease. It was just 31 seconds between goals. The octopus ink hadn’t even had time to dry.

The Hawks had lots of chances Monday night, but Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard was stellar with 39 saves. Patrick Sharp could have cut the lead to 2-1 on a breakaway in the third, but Howard stopped him. Patrick Kane did make it a one-goal game in the third period when he beat Howard between the pads. But Pavel Datsyuk beat Crawford on a tough angle to pump Detroit’s lead to 3-1.

The Hawks came unglued in the waning moments, with Andrew Shaw getting a game misconduct. Maybe he was upset about an earlier disallowed goal. Maybe he thinks the emotion will carry over to Game 4 and help the Hawks. But it didn’t look mature. It looked weak.

“I think we’re very composed, but we want to play with some emotion,’’ Toews said. “I think we did exactly what we wanted to do. We were scratching and clawing.’’

Whatever, that wasn’t the story of the game.

After the Game 2 loss, Toews said the Hawks needed to match the Red Wings’ aggressiveness going forward. But why couldn’t they have done it during that game when it became apparent the refs were allowing Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg to treat Toews like a bag of potatoes? Where were the in-game adjustments by coaches and players? It was as if awareness were on some sort of weird tape delay.

What a strange, fascinating series this has turned out to be, and it’s only three games old.

The decision to bench Viktor Stalberg for Games 1 and 2 likely won’t decide this series, but it is reminder that, contrary to popular opinion, not everything that coach Joel Quenne-
ville touches turns to gold. That’s the nice way of putting it. The not-so-nice-way comes in question form: Has he lost his mind? It seemed like a very strange time to play coach and mess with success. The third line of Stalberg, Shaw and Bryan Bickell was one of the reasons the Hawks were so consistently good this season. How many teams could match that third line? Stalberg returned for Game 3.

Five minutes into the first period Monday night, all of that was forgotten. The Red Wings were hitting, and the Hawks were answering in kind — or unkind. But it wasn’t enough.

“We know there’s going to be a lot of adversity … some tough moments in the playoffs,’’ Toews said. “We’ve just got to rise to the occasion.’’

For the first time this season, we have to ask the question: Can they?



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