ST. PAUL, Minn.—The Kings had their chance this season to lay a claim to being a modern NHL dynasty.
But L.A. couldn’t even make the playoffs.
Now it’s Chicago’s turn to make their claim, and they’re halfway there.
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS: | Broadcast Schedule
Rogers NHL GameCentre LIVE | Stanley Cup Playoffs Fantasy Hockey
New Sportsnet app: iTunes | Google Play
Beating Minnesota in a surprisingly quick four games has pushed the Blackhawks into their fourth Western Conference final in six years, with a chance at a third Stanley Cup.
In a salary cap universe, with free agency at 27 or younger, that may be as good as it can possibly get for any team. Indeed, the Hawks are going to be facing some hard financial decisions this summer, and so seem utterly determined to make the most of the opportunity at hand.
“It leads with our core guys. Our leaders set the tone and everyone just follows,” said goalie Corey Crawford. “This team is hungry to win.”
Call it a dynasty or use some other term, but three Cups over that period time would be an extraordinary achievement in the new century.
The Hawks, who lost the conference final in seven games to L.A. last spring, face the winner of Anaheim and Calgary next knowing they got through the second round quickly and in style, never trailing in the series.
“Obviously, if you can have rest this time of year, it’s important and it’s a plus,” said defenceman Duncan Keith. “We’re going to do everything we can to rest up and get ready for the next round.”
In Game 4 Thursday night, they led 2-1 going into the third and held on for a 4-3 triumph, with, oddly enough, an empty netter by Marian Hossa standing up as the game winning goal.
It was the third straight spring the Hawks have eliminated the Wild, and also the 30th time in 30 tries this season the Hawks have led after two periods and made it stand up for a win. That said, they needed some remarkable individual efforts to make it happen, including a third period in which Keith played 11:13 and a 34-save performance overall by Crawford, who has clearly found his game again.
Patrick Kane, meanwhile, scored again, giving him five goals in the series on only 10 shots, an outrageous 50 per cent shooting percentage. Minny only scored seven goals as a team in the series.
“You look at this series and see it was 4-0, but every game was pretty close,” said Kane, fully recovered from a broken collarbone that cost him seven weeks on the injury shelf.
“It was a battle every game, closer than it looked. I thought we got some fortunate bounces, but you’ve got to work to get those bounces, and you’ve got to be ready.”
The Wild couldn’t win a game after putting together a remarkable second half of the season, then dusting off the St. Louis Blues in the first round. They just couldn’t control Kane, and they couldn’t get enough out of their best scorers to upend the Hawks.
“We just didn’t do enough,” said Minnesota winger Zach Parise, who scored once in the series. “I don’t know how else to characterize it.”
Minnesota surrendered the first goal of the game in all four contests. A disappointed Wild head coach Mike Yeo said his club had a difficult time adjusting to the smooth-skating Hawks after a tough battle with hardnosed St. Louis in the first round.
“Maybe we went in with too many expectations,” he sighed. “That’s a great team, they played great, and they’ve won eight of their last nine playoff series.”
Chicago did lose veteran defenceman Michael Rozsival to a suspected leg injury when he appeared to catch a rut while skating backwards in the second period, going down hard and surrendering a breakaway to Tomas Vanek that Crawford turned away.
Without Rozsival, and with Kimmo Timonen playing only 1:43 in the third period, the Hawks leaned heavily on Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya, and may have to continue doing that in the next round if Rozsival can’t recover.
The Hawks actually led 4-1 with less than three minutes to play, but the Wild struck twice with Devan Dubnyk out for an extra attacker and pressed hard in the final seconds to at very least push one of the games to overtime.
A smiling Keith said, “Yeah, it got a little odd there near the end.”