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Quenneville still waiting for Blackhawks' next level

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- It was no surprise to hear the Chicago Blackhawks saying they weren't satisfied after defeating the Minnesota Wild 5-1 on Thursday night at United Center.

Despite closing out a Western Conference Quarterfinal series in a Game 5 rout on home ice -- in front of a giddy, packed house at the "Madhouse on Madison" -- the Blackhawks found plenty of reasons to stay humble for the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.

"I still think we have to be better," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, grumbling like a coach facing elimination instead of one who just added to an impressive postseason resume. "I'm not doing cartwheels the last two games. I still think there's another level [we've got] get to, to be more consistent in our game."

He wasn't done.

There was still the matter of a big finish to the press conference, in which the white-haired, mustachioed hockey tactician -- coach of the 2010 Stanley Cup champions and purveyor of fine cigars -- revealed some of the snarl that's defined him as both a player and bench boss.

"I think it's good for everybody to get the taste of the playoffs," Quenneville said, tightening his grip of the lectern. "I think we still have to get a different type of pace to our game that's catching up to the other series that are being played and what the playoffs are all about."

It sounded like he was jealous of other series' battles, ones nastier than the series Chicago just closed out. While the Blackhawks and Wild stood in mild disagreement a few times, teams in other series traded punches on the ice and barbs through the media stemming from controversial hits to outright accusations of cheating in the faceoff circle.

Minnesota coach Mike Yeo leveled similar "faceoff cheating" comments toward Chicago at one point, but even that didn't amount to much of anything. Asked prior to Game 5 if he thought his team was getting away with illegal faceoff tactics, renowned winner-of-draws and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews simply answered, "Not really … I don't think so."

It was indicative of the somewhat subdued tone of the series. No player was identified to the media by number alone and no coach was compared to a sea mammal with tusks. Viktor Stalberg was called for a faceoff violation in the first period on Thursday night, which turned Quenneville's face several shades of purple, but that was the exception to the rule in Chicago's first dance of this postseason.

Forgive the seasoned coach for hoping the next round brings out a hotter fire and higher "compete level" in his top-seeded team.

"It's not the regular season," Quenneville continued. "There's another appetite that we have to get as well. I don't think we should be happy with where we're at with our play … and let's get angry as we go along here."

The message was clear. This is not a time to feel satisfaction if you're a member of the Blackhawks, even though this was the team's first playoff series victory since winning the Cup three years ago.

"We're not satisfied," has been Chicago's mantra all season, starting with the unprecedented 24-game point streak to start the year and lasting through another hot stretch to end the regular season with the Presidents' Trophy and home ice in the postseason.

Why change now?

"It's a win," goalie Corey Crawford said bluntly after yet another dazzling performance in net in Game 5 to further frustrate the Wild. "We'll take it. It's a win and we're moving on. It feels good right now, but we've still got a lot of work to do."

The Blackhawks lost once to the Wild, a 3-2 overtime defeat in Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center, but their level of play overall didn't match their best points during the regular season. The puck-possession game needs to improve, the power play -- which went 2-for-13 against Minnesota -- is still an issue and they probably can't yield as many prime scoring chances to teams with better finishers.

Even forward Patrick Sharp, who scored one fewer goal in the opening series (five) than he did in 28 games of an injury-hampered regular season, kept the situation in perspective afterward.

"Obviously, to win against a good team like Minnesota feels good," said Sharp, who scored 11 goals in Chicago's 2010 championship run to tie Dustin Byfuglien for the team lead. "I feel like there was no panic in our game, much like the regular season. We had some close games, some overtime games, and we just kept playing the same way. That's something that we can be proud about … but hopefully we can find that other level, because we're going to need it the further we go."

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