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Saturday, May 4, 2013
Hawks push the pace in Game 2

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO -- It’s all about the pace. When the Chicago Blackhawks have it -- as they did on Friday in Game 2 of their playoff series against the Minnesota Wild -- there are few teams that can stop them. Forget these 2-1 overtime nail-biters, the Hawks want to skate.

“I think that’s the best way,” forward Patrick Kane said after the 5-2 win to put the Hawks up 2-0 in the series. “The coaches might like a 2-1 or 1-0 game, but for us it’s always fun to play in those games where it’s four or five to two.”

You don’t score five goals very often by grinding it out. Those kind of nights come from an up-tempo style. The Hawks had it from the get-go.

“Very disappointing first period the other night,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Game 1’s start. “We didn’t dictate how the game needed to be played as far as how fast we wanted to play. Tonight, we were much more effective.”

It’s not every day in hockey -- or any other sport, for that matter -- that a team can say exactly what it wants to do going into a game and then go out and do it.

After all, there is an opponent trying to stymie those plans.

The Blackhawks wanted a better start to Game 2, and they wanted more pace to their game, more of a style that would highlight the difference between a 36-7-5 team and one that slipped into the postseason with a 26-19-3 mark.

They got exactly what they said they wanted.

“We did a lot of good things out there,” two-goal scorer Patrick Sharp said. “A lot of scoring chances and second opportunities. You hear the term 'one-and-done,' you shoot the puck it gets cleared out of the zone -- that was Game 1's storyline. Today, we generated a few more chances, and it resulted in more goals.”

The first period set the tone; in fact, the opening minutes told the story of the game. The Hawks had seven shots on net before the first television commercial break, and by the end of 20 minutes they had 17 shots. With feet moving and bodies twisting and turning, it was more than the Wild could handle.

“They were better from Game 1 and we were worse,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “There was clearly another level to their game tonight, and I’d say that there’s at least another level to ours that was unfortunately in the wrong direction.”

Yeo also mentioned the pace of the game. Either the Wild have to pick it up or get the Hawks to slow down.

“A little bit of both,” he said.

But in reality, the only way Minnesota steals a game -- let alone the series -- is if more contests play out like Game 1. In fact, it’s really not a surprise how the first two games of the series have gone. Opening the postseason can always be a tricky proposition for the prohibitive favorite. The idea of playing loose and free isn’t one that a No. 1 seed really entertains -- that’s for No. 8. But once the Wild blew their overtime chance on Tuesday, and the home team had a game in its pocket, it was time for the Hawks to be themselves again.

“I think our pace was better, but there’s still plays that we could be better at,” Duncan Keith said.

There always is. And Quenneville didn’t love the second period, though the teams simply exchanged tallies. Minnesota found some of its own pace in the middle 20 minutes, but against the Hawks a few minutes of dictating the play isn’t enough on 99 percent of nights. Even when the Wild pulled to within one at 2-1 after two periods, it was hard to imagine they would ever tie it, barring a fluky goal. The overall pace still belonged to the Hawks. Ironically, only the Hawks' own power play could slow it down.

But that’s of little concern when the penalty kill produces a goal and the Hawks play close enough to 60 minutes showing off the talent gap between the teams. The final shot tally was 48-28. That tells much of the story.

Ask yourself this: Is Game 1 more indicative of how the rest of the series will play out, or is Game 2? If you’ve watched the Hawks all season, then you know the answer. They’re simply too good -- maybe for even a one-game upset in Minnesota -- as long as the Hawks keep doing what they say they want.

“I don’t think you go through a whole game where you do what you want to do,” Keith said. “There’s more plays to be made.”

If that’s true, then Minnesota will be in bigger trouble than it is now.