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Back in driver's seat, Blackhawks look to tighten grip

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- It had been three years since the Chicago Blackhawks were in the enviable position of being up two games to none in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The previous time it happened was in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers -- a series in which the Blackhawks captured the championship in six games. After bowing out of the playoffs in the first round the past two seasons, Chicago is again back in the driver's seat of a postseason series.

The Blackhawks lead their best-of-7 Western Conference Quarterfinal against the Minnesota Wild 2-0 heading into Game 3 on Sunday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. (3 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).

"Every game's huge, but to be able to go up 3-0 would definitely give us a huge advantage in this series," Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith said Saturday afternoon prior to the team's short flight to Minnesota. "I don't think the mentality changes. We want to do the same things and focus on the same things we've been focusing on."

Chicago will again be without goalie Ray Emery and center Dave Bolland, each sidelined with a lower-body injury, but the pair skated Saturday and will make the trip.

"We've got a better indication going forward," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Their health … they'll say they're ready and then we'll gauge it from that. Sometimes you've got to be smart, but we'll see."

Chicago hasn't really missed either in the first two games. Now, the Blackhawks just want to keep the pressure on the Wild and put another one in the win column -- like they did in Game 2, a 5-2 victory Friday night at United Center by launching 48 shots on goal. Chicago can really take control of this series by going up three games to none, which has to be a good feeling compared to what the team went through in the two playoffs since winning the Cup.

Chicago fell behind 3-0 in a first-round series against the rival Vancouver Canucks in 2011, only to tie it 3-3 then lose Game 7 in overtime. The Blackhawks split two first-round road games to start a series against the Phoenix Coyotes last year before dropping the next two in Chicago and ultimately losing the series in Game 6 at United Center.

This season's been different right from the start, with the Blackhawks getting off to an unprecedented 24-game point streak to start the year and racking up 77 points in 48 games to win the Presidents' Trophy.

Now they've captured the first two games of this series against eighth-seeded Minnesota, which held off the Columbus Blue Jackets on the season's last day just to get into the playoffs. The Blackhawks are starting to remind some of the 2010 Stanley Cup championship team, but don't try selling that idea to them yet.

"It's different," right wing Patrick Kane said. "You don't want to get too far ahead of yourself and compare teams. Yeah, we had a great season. Yeah, we had a great start in the playoffs, but we're still a long way from doing what we did in 2010. It's a different year."

Sunday is a golden opportunity to put the Wild -- a team that hadn't been in the postseason since 2008 -- in a virtual vice grip. Should the Blackhawks win Game 3, the Wild face elimination games the rest of the way.

"We're feeling pretty good," Chicago rookie wing Brandon Saad said. "To go up 3-0 would be huge for us. They're going to come out flying and we're going to have to match the intensity. We were much better [Friday] night than we were [in Game 1] and everyone came out to play a lot harder."

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