Hawks go from legendary to lethargic in 1 game

Toews and mates were frustrated, but that's because it's supposed to be the other way around

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Blackhawks beat reporter Chris Kuc and columnist David Haugh rehashing the Blackhawks' 4-1 loss to the Red Wings in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Frustration won a rare faceoff with Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.

"I'm not going to go off and complain …" Toews said after Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Red Wings at the United Center that evened the Western Conference semifinals 1-1.

Alas, Toews went and complained anyway.

"If that's the way they're going to play, we have to play the same way,'' Toews said of the Wings' forceful style. "There's a lot of clutch and grab, a lot of interference. It's just tough to understand sometimes why we get roughing penalties and sticking and hooking and that doesn't go both ways.''

Sorry, Captain, it is even tougher to understand how the Hawks can look legendary one game and lethargic the next — three days later against the same team on the same sheet of ice. Maybe, as Toews suggested, the reason has something to do with officials calling the Blackhawks for two more penalties than the Red Wings — five to three — but I doubt it. Welcome to real playoff hockey.

Were the refs responsible for the Red Wings outscoring the Hawks 2-0 during a dormant second period in which the home team meekly managed just five shots on goal? Did officiating help Henrik Zetterberg beat Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to the loose puck before Zetterberg's pretty pass to Brendan Smith for the go-ahead, second-period goal?

I'm not going to complain but the best team in the NHL should be above griping about aggressive play in a playoff series they still should win. Saturday's biggest difference had more to do with the Wings out-Hawking the Hawks by playing a fast, physical, puck-possession game predicated around urgency their opponents lacked after the first period.

"They used our own style against us,'' confirmed Patrick Kane, who scored the Hawks' sole goal.

It resulted in the Blackhawks' worst game in weeks. In a rare noon puck-drop, the Hawks hardly looked ready for prime time.

"I thought our game was way off in terms of the pace,'' Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said.

So much for the hyperbole saying the Hawks will win the series in three.

Forget what the calendar or the schedule says now. On a sunny, beautiful day in Chicago that carried the whiff of summer, the NHL playoffs unofficially started for the Blackhawks.

So far, everything else around the Hawks postseason that transpired before Game 2 against the Red Wings felt like pageantry. The Hawks easily tamed the Wild in the first round in five games that essentially served as an exhibition period. Then they dominated a tired Red Wings team in the second-round opener so thoroughly that, around town, too much time was spent after that convincing victory discussing either postseason award possibilities or future matchups.

Apparently the Hawks had good ears and listened to every complimentary word. Hopefully for Quenneville, the silence they heard in their own building for most of the bad loss resonates just as much.

"Maybe after the first game we thought it was going to be an easy series,'' Kane acknowledged. "We had a lot of confidence in here.''

Suddenly, consternation has replaced that confidence in the Hawks dressing room. They knew the Red Wings would respond with more energy yet failed to match it. They ceded the home-ice advantage and momentum to the rejuvenated Red Wings who came committed to crowding the Hawks' elite skaters. You saw the results of that approach in the Hawks taking just 20 shots — 22 fewer than in Game 1 — and in the way Zetterberg made it an unusually long day for Toews.

"They have four guys who are all-world and you can't give them room,'' said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who credited a day off for his team's resurgence. "Now we're freshened up. Series on.''

When the Red Wings have the Hawks talking about changing their style after one loss, indeed Babcock has the series he envisioned. The Hawks didn't win the Presidents' Trophy by altering their game. They won the award by imposing it.

It took 55 games into this lockout-shortened season but, finally, the Hawks have adversity to overcome.

Healthy scratch Viktor Stalberg complaining about ice time during the power play isn't adversity. It's a nuisance. Anybody who thinks Stalberg's absence was the reason the Hawks played the final two periods on auto-pilot overstates his value. The Hawks didn't lose because they lacked the speed of one player. They lost because they couldn't keep up with an entire team's intensity.

Handled properly by Quenneville, this ultimately could go down as a well-timed letdown that renewed the Hawks' purpose and removed complacency.

"Obviously, we didn't match their effort,'' Toews said.

The Red Wings returned home with the split they wanted. Perhaps more importantly, the Hawks got the reality check they needed.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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