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3 Rounds: Blackhawks Conquer Wild, Punch Ticket To WCF

The defending Stanley Cup champions have done it again. Courtesy of yet another game-winning overtime goal by Patrick Kane, the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Minnesota Wild for the second year in a row with a 4-2 series victory.

To many people’s surprise, this series turned out to unravel a lot closer than most fans around the National Hockey League had originally anticipated. It was somewhat predetermined that the more experienced Hawks would once again steamroll straight over the younger, less skilled Wild team. However, that’s not the way we eventually saw it unfold over the course of the intensity-filled six-game series that took place.

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Games one and two were thoroughly dominated by the Blackhawks as they successfully defended the “Madhouse on Madison” with convincing 5-2 and 4-1 wins to take a 2-0 lead in the series. Forwards Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell were the two shining stars for Chicago combining for 11 points [four goals, seven assists] and a plus-nine rating.

Minnesota net minder Ilya Bryzgalov struggled to find ways to prevent pucks from reaching the back of his net as he only managed to stop 35 out of the 42 total shots the Hawks put on him over that two-game span.

On the offensive front, the only Wild players to find the back of Corey Crawford’s net were Kyle Brodziak, Clayton Stoner, and Cody McCormick. Understandably, that wasn’t nearly enough for head coach Mike Yeo’s squad to return home with a win.

As a result, Minnesota, like Chicago, was forced to protect their own home ice in games three and four, which they ultimately did with back-to-back 4-0 and 4-2 victories tying the series at two apiece.

Bryzgalov’s 37 saves on 39 shots faced throughout those two games successfully backstopped his team giving them a quality chance to win each night. Paired with an incredibly well-balanced list of offensive contributors including Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, and a number of others, the Wild sent the series back to the United Center all evened up.

Game five provided fans and analysts alike with an exciting scenario. While both teams were undoubtedly head-and-shoulders better than the other in their own respective buildings, it was almost impossible to predict whether or not that pattern would sustain itself.

After Erik Haula and Bickell traded goals after two periods of play, the game inevitably turned into a “next goal wins” type of situation. While the teams took turns trading chances back and forth as the third period progressed, Hawks captain Jonathan Toews would end up playing hero when a net mouth scramble resulted in a 2-1 lead for the home team. After hanging on until the horn sounded, Chicago saw themselves in a very comfortable and familiar position heading back to Xcel Energy Center up 3-2 in the series.

Taking into consideration the way the series had gone previously, with each team remaining undefeated at home, many were convinced we’d see a game seven back in Chi-Town after the night was over. As the game evolved, it almost seemed like a certainty.

Minnesota came out flying against the Hawks and looked to be on a focused mission to play their game without giving their opposition a chance to breathe, and that’s exactly what they did. They suffocated Chicago, smothered them in their own end, and unrelentingly put as many pucks towards Corey Crawford as possible.

However, with what would seem as a cruel joke, Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg opened up the scoring after a weak shot from below the goal line deflected off a Wild player in the crease and bobbled past Bryzgalov. Although, as expected, rightful justice would eventually be served when Matt Cooke sprung rookie Erik Haula for a breakaway two and a half minutes into the second period. Haula put the puck glove side past Crawford scoring his fourth goal of the postseason to even up the score.

After 60 minutes of play, game six would need overtime in order to crown an undisputed winner, and who would step up to deliver the final, heart wrenching blow? You guessed it. None other than No. 88, the world-renowned Patrick “Showtime” Kane. After a crazy carom off the end boards from a Brent Seabrook dump-in, Kane scooped up the loose puck and all in one motion went forehand, backhand, and to the roof putting his shot just under the crossbar past the deked-out Bryzgalov officially sealing the deal and sending the Hawks back to the Western Conference finals for the second time in two years.

For the Minnesota Wild, while it may have ended in an unexpected, disheartening way, this season proved to be a major stepping stone in what looks to be a very successful future.

As for the Blackhawks, they await the winner of game seven between the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings. Whoever comes out of the “Battle for California” alive will face Chicago for the right to compete in the Stanley Cup finals.

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