Up 2-0, Blackhawks, Kane know they still have a big hill to climb vs. game Wild

SHARE Up 2-0, Blackhawks, Kane know they still have a big hill to climb vs. game Wild

Now comes the hard part.

The Blackhawks won the first two games of their second-round series with the Minnesota Wild in relatively impressive fashion — though it’s the third consecutive year they’ve taken a 2-0 lead at home against the Wild, this was the first time they led throughout the third period in both games. For the Hawks, those are blowouts.

“I don’t know,” defenseman Duncan Keith said when asked if the Hawks are playing their best hockey of the season. We’re in the playoffs. It’s a fine line between winning and losing, scoring goals and [allowing goals].

“I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement. We did a lot of good things the last couple of games. But we know it’s a tough building to play in in Minnesota. It’s a loud crowd and they get into it. We’re going to have to keep on getting better. We can’t sit back and think what we’ve done here is good enough.”

Keith and the Hawks veterans know better than to think they’re in the clear. Arguably the biggest challenge is up next: winning Game 3 on the road.

In their seven-year run as Cup contenders, the Hawks are ahead of the NHL curve in most playoff measureables with one notable exception: In Game 3 on the road under Joel Quenneville, the Hawks are 1-9 — with seven consecutive losses. That’s the worst record in hockey since 2006 among teams with more than two shots at it. The rest of the league is nearly .500 in that scenario (66-67). (For the record, the Hawks’ only victory in a Game 3 on the road under Quenneville was against the Canucks in the second round in 2010, when they had lost home-ice advantage and won 5-2 in Vancouver.)

When the Hawks take a 2-0 lead at home in the playoffs under Quenneville, they are 0-5 in Game 3. They lost to the Wild 3-2 in overtime in 2013; and 4-0 (in a game that was scoreless in the third period) last year.

“Yeah, we’ve seen in previous years that hasn’t been our best game,” forward Patrick Kane said. “It’s important to come out with a good effort and make sure we weather the storm with their crowd the first 10 minutes and kind of take off and push back after that.”

Despite winning the first two games without too much drama in the end, the Hawks know better than to get too comfortable. They led 2-0 against the Wild last year and were outscored 8-2 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul in Games 3-4 — losing 4-0 and 4-2.

“We’ve played a lot of playoff series in last six, seven years,” said Patrick Sharp, whose back-breaking goal in the third period in Game 2 gave the Hawks a 3-1 lead. “You try to learn from the experience, whether you win Game 3 or lose it.

“Obviously it’s a huge game for both teams. They’re only going to get better as the series goes on, so we have to have respect for our opponent and kind of raise our game as we move along in the series.”

Kane echoed those sentiments.

“We know we have special players in here, a special team —and players that we’ve [won] with before,” Kane said. “[But] by no means are we satisfied with where we’re at. We know we’re in a good position in the series — we took care of business at hone. But as we saw last year, it could easily be 2-2 after four games against a team like this. We’ve got to be ready going into Game 3 to have our best effort in the series.”

As much as the Hawks are bracing for a push-back from the Wild, the series is trending their way. Even if they lose both games at Xcel Energy Center, they’ll come back to the United Center for Game 5 tied 2-2. In the Quenneville era, the Hawks are 14-0 — winning Games 5 and 6 every time. But that’s a situation, no matter how fortuitous historically, the Hawks at this point would rather avoid.

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