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The better team keeps on winning

CHICAGO -- If reality isn’t setting in on the Chicago Blackhawks, it will in a couple of days or a couple of days after that. The Vancouver Canucks are a better team.

If it wasn’t already apparent after Games 1 and 2 then it’s quite obvious after a 3-2, Game 3 loss to Vancouver on Sunday. It places the Hawks in the deepest of holes in their Western Conference quarterfinal, needing to win four consecutive games to keep their season alive.

“The team that is playing better is winning the games,” Brian Campbell said after Sunday’s loss. “We have yet to play better than them in this series. Can we? Yeah, we’re definitely capable of it. It just hasn’t been done yet.”

But if it couldn’t be done in Game 3, maybe it just can’t be done at all. The Hawks were given every opportunity to get back in the series, but failed.

They scored first. They scored on the power play. They got man-advantage chances by working hard and from some undisciplined penalties by the Canucks. They even had an extended 5-on-3 power play when they already led 1-0. None of it mattered, because the better team eventually prevailed.

“At times we were good, at times we weren’t,” Campbell said. “You have to be good for all 60 [minutes].”

Season-long problems weren’t solved after 82 games, so why would anything change now? The Hawks have become predictable in how they lose. They were tied after two periods again on Sunday and lost. We’ve seen this act before.

“We had a great start,” Jonathan Toews said. “We got that first goal, but it’s been our problem all year, we let teams back in the game and give that momentum right back. We’ve only got ourselves to blame and ourselves to be disappointed in.”

The fragility of this team was on display in the second period when big John Scott was called for interference. Playing in his first playoff game, Scott was water cooler talk all day leading up to the puck drop. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wanted Scott’s size in the game to combat the physical Canucks and Scott even saw a few moments on the power play, standing in front of Roberto Luongo. But his night ended when he interfered with Maxim Lapierre with the Hawks up 1-0.

About a minute later, Vancouver led 2-1. That’s when the momentum changed.

“Like a switch,” Scott said. “It happens.”

“They scored right off the bat and got them going,’ Quenneville said. “They turned two quick plays.”

Why would a lousy interference call get the opponent going? The Hawks were piling up the power plays and were the victim of a brutal head blow to Brent Seabrook by cheap-shot artist Raffi Torres. How come those instances didn’t keep the momentum on the Hawks’ side? Why would a failed 5-on-3 drop the energy as Quenneville indicated it did?

If any team should have caved it was the Canucks, but this time around they are showing a mental fortitude no one has seen from them in past playoffs. Yes, they somewhat reverted to 2010 form by taking bad penalties, but even then they didn’t fold. The Canucks are beating the Hawks at their own game or at least their “old” own game.

If ever the most diehard of fans needed convincing the Stanley Cup champions are no more, then the first three games of this series is it. Games 1 and 2 gave an indication, but until the Hawks had everything working in their favor and still lost, it couldn’t be declared with certainty. Now it can be, even if there is still another defeat to be had.

Game 4 must be played on Tuesday, but if the Hawks play beyond that this season, it will be the biggest surprise yet.

The better team is winning.