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Have the Wild broken the will of the Blackhawks or will the champs respond?

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - Blackhawk fans that aren’t concerned the defending champs are in jeopardy of losing this series are extremely optimistic. For Joel Quenneville there couldn’t have been anything good to take away from a 4-2 Game 4 loss to the Wild.

It is always the same case when a club gets outplayed and is dominated by an opponent- their best players disappear. Leading the way in being invisible is Jonathan Toews. There are others like Bryan Bickell whose play has severely declined since arriving in Minnesota.

Quenneville has lost his advantage of having a deeper squad than opponents. Actually that supposed advantage has been overstated in this year’s playoffs. Quenneville keeps changing lines because he knows his club isn’t firing on all cylinders. That was the case even before Minnesota won a game. No matter what the line combinations have been, players have to be better.

The Hawks haven’t played at a high level for three consecutive periods during one game this series. They look like a team that was overconfident after going up 2-0 and possibly they are running out of gas. To get outplayed so badly after being shutout should raise a huge red flag with the biggest Blackhawk believers.

The Wild haven’t only been good at home during the postseason, they have been outstanding. Minnesota is a perfect 5-0 and has allowed only five goals in five home games.

If you believe in momentum the Wild have it and they are also brimming with confidence. When it comes to bad line changes, defensive miscues, and an apparent lack of desire the Blackhawks have check marks in those categories. The only positive for Blackhawk faithful is the series is tied, and two of the next three games are scheduled at the United Center.

That could be good news but things need to change in a big way for the Blackhawks. Unless the Hawks can outwork the Wild and start playing a crisper game with fewer mistakes they will trail in the series after Sunday’s contest.

To add to the gloominess Corey Crawford let in some soft goals. On the other side of the ledger Ilya Bryzgalov has looked shaky at times but he has allowed only two goals in the last two games.

As in Game 3 the Hawks were outshot and couldn’t manage more than 20 shots on goal. In the series, the highest shot total for Chicago has been 22 in Games 1 and 2. So the Wild deserve a good deal of credit.

Marcus Kruger and Patrick Kane looked determined but neither could accomplish much. Maybe Marian Hossa played at an acceptable level but the list of those who have to be better in Game 5 is a long one.

After winning the opening two games my thinking was the Hawks could make this a short series. The Blackhawks won without their "A" game and it seemed if they brought their best the Wild would not have a chance.

Well pretty much the opposite has happened as the Wild have been able to elevate their play and have stifled the Hawks offense. Minnesota beat the Hawks on Friday night at their own game. The Wild were able to play at a fast pace and pressure the Hawks defense. The Blackhawks passing hasn’t been great and the Wild have to be credited for a solid defensive structure.

Players who were a big part of last year’s Cup run, Duncan Keith and Michal Rozsival were subpar last night and took bad penalties.

The Hawks do miss Andrew Shaw and there is no telling when he will be cleared to play. Shaw hasn’t been able to skate since being hurt in Game 1.

Nick Leddy returned to action but wasn't very noticeable. The same can be said for the entire fourth line except for Brandon Bollig.

The only reason Bollig stood out is because he took a bad boarding penalty when he checked Keith Ballard in the middle frame. It was a dangerous play on Bollig’s part, Ballard left the game and did not return. The league will review the hit and Bollig could face disciplinary action.

Late on Sunday night or possible early Monday morning if there is overtime, Quenneville will know if his squad was able to respond with a very good effort. That’s usually the case, when the going gets tough the Blackhawks get going but for many reasons this time could be different.

The Hawks have gone from having an excellent opportunity to win a short series to needing a turnaround so they don’t face elimination in Game 6. Quenneville should take his share of the blame and seemingly there aren't many more line combinations he could try.

Frustration is becoming apparent and in reality this challenge sits squarely on the shoulders of the players. A Mother's Day Game 5 will tell all if the Blackhawks still have the will to win or if the Wild and has taken command of the series.

I will be back on Monday morning and you can follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia.

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