The feeling in the Chicago Blackhawks locker room was tempered.
Sure, the Blackhawks were happy. After two consecutive first-round eliminations, they were getting back to the Western Conference semifinals. But satisfied with their game? Not even close.
The Blackhawks liked parts of their game against the Minnesota Wild, who they eliminated in five games, capped with their 5-1 victory here on Thursday night. But overall, they know they can be better. Much better. And no matter who they play in the second round, be it San Jose or Detroit, the Blackhawks know they need that better game to show up.
“I’m not doing cartwheels over the last two games,” coach Joel Quenneville said of the Blackhawks, who won those final two games to clinch that quarterfinal series. “I still think we have to be better. There’s another level we need to get to, to be more consistent and ratchet up the playoff pace.”
The Blackhawks were probably closest to that pace on Thursday night. Learning their lesson after a paltry Game 3 -– which they still almost won -– the Blackhawks got past a slow opening 10 minutes and then settled into their game. They were back to pushing their pace instead of letting the Wild dictate its style.
But the Blackhawks are looking for that more often.
“We feel we can still push the pace more,” said Patrick Sharp, who has five goals in as many games in these playoffs. “We’ve got talented players, we’re going to score goals. But there are things we can do better.”
This is the time of year when every team has to play with an extra drive, an extra hunger that’s not as necessary during the regular season. The Blackhawks showed glimpses of that against the Wild, but not nearly to the extent they would’ve liked. They have enough players on this team who were here for the Stanley Cup run, who know how difficult it is and what it’s going to take. It’s going to take more. The Blackhawks have to be prepared to give that.
“We still have to get a different type of pace to our game; we’re catching up to the other series of the playoffs,” Quenneville said. “There’s another appetite we have to give. We shouldn’t be happy with where we’re at with our play. Let’s get angry as we go along here.”