The youthful Blackhawks showed poise and panache in finishing off the older, more experienced Calgary Flames in Game 6 of this Western Conference Quarterfinal series Monday night at the Pengrowth Saddledome. The Hawks got a spectacular 43-save performance from goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and goals from four players in a 4-1 victory.
"There are a lot of young guys in here, but it’s almost like we don’t even know any better," grinned 20-year-old Chicago forward Patrick Kane, who opened the scoring with an early power-play goal.
"But to play so hard, and come out with a win against an experienced team like that, with a couple of superstars, we did pretty good," Kane added. "The goal at the start of the year was just to make playoffs, but from there you see how players play, how rookies step up, how different guys come into their own.
"That’s what’s so good about our team. We have unsung heroes who step up, and a lot of role players on the team who step up as well. We don’t want to stop here — we want to keep going."
The Blackhawks, whose roster includes 12 playoff debutantes and 14 players aged 25 or younger, won their first playoff series in 13 long years. The last time the Hawks had seen the second round was 1996, when they swept the Flames out of the conference quarterfinals in four games. The last time they'd even made an appearance in the NHL’s postseason was 2002.
"It’s huge for the organization," Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "The city of Chicago deserves it. The fans in Chicago deserve it. They’ve done a great job supporting us the past couple of years."
Meanwhile, the Flames and their "C" of Red followers are preparing for another early summer after the club failed to advance past the first round of playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
"It’s going to be a long summer," Flames center Craig Conroy said with a sigh.
The Hawks came into the series with the NHL's fourth-best offense during the regular season -- much of it from young players like Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Kris Versteeg, who helped Chicago end its seven-year playoff drought. But the Hawks' kiddie corps was untested in the postseason, whereas the Flames — with a mixture of muscle, skill and maturity — were built to succeed in the playoffs.
It didn't work out that way.
"We did a good job of sticking to what makes us successful," said Toews, Chicago's captain, "and staying confident and positive in our locker room.
"If you think about people telling you that you don’t have experience, and you don’t have this and that, maybe you start to believe it a little bit. We stuck together, and that was the biggest reason why we came out on top."
The Flames played without All-Star defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who sustained a suspected head injury during the late stages of Game 5. Anders Eriksson took his place in the lineup.
The Hawks wasted no time showing they had no intention of playing a Game 7. Following a script that had already been established in Games 3 and 4, the Flames took an early penalty — on Monday, it was Todd Bertuzzi for elbowing — and Chicago took advantage.
Versteeg threw a pass/shot from the far left circle across the crease, where Dustin Byfuglien was making life miserable for goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. The puck bounced right out to Kane, who buried a shot from the lower right circle at 2:40.
Byfuglien's pass set up Adam Burish's goal at 10:33, giving the Hawks two goals on their first three shots.
The Flames, despite a handful of glorious chances in that opening session, couldn’t solve Khabibulin -- and the tone was set for the night. Brian Campbell's first goal in 50 games, a power-play goal late in the second period -- made it 3-0.
"That’s what’s so good about our team. We have unsung heroes who step up, and a lot of role players on the team who step up as well. We don’t want to stop here — we want to keep going." -- Patrick Kane
Bertuzzi finally ended Khabibulin’s shutout bid on a sharp-angled shot under the crossbar 54 seconds into the third period, but it was all the Flames could manage against Khabibulin, their arch-nemesis. He's 30-10-2 against them lifetime, including two playoff series wins -- the other came in the 2004 Final, while he was playing for Tampa Bay.
"We tried to throw everything at them tonight," Conroy said. "It’s frustrating that we didn’t accomplish our goals.
"For whatever reason, it seemed like déjà vu. Taking the penalties, them getting the power-play goals, and they were off and running."
Chicago bruiser Dustin Byfuglien showed off some surprisingly soft hands midway through the first period. The 250-pounder moved from left to right wing through the neutral zone, leads Jordan Leopold around behind the Calgary net, and from the deep left corner feathered a pass out to Adam Burish, who dartsed behind Dustin Boyd and Cory Sarich and went high glove side for a 2-0 Hawks lead.
Chicago defenseman Matt Walker, whose suspected broken middle finger sent shivers down the spine of TV viewers on Saturday, was in uniform playing a regular shift alongside partner Cam Barker.
Calgary’s Craig Conroy and Cory Sarich worked a little hammer-and-anvil routine on a puck-carrying Martin Havlat in the second period, with Conroy directing Havlat toward the left boards and Sarich dropping him with a thunderous shoulder.
The Hawks lit the lamp on two of their first three shots on goal. Their second shot of the middle period, which didn't come until nearly the 15-minute mark, also finds the range for a 3-0 lead.
The Flames are now 1-4 in elimination games since their 2004 run to the Stanley Cup Final . . . Uncharacteristically, Flames captain Jarome Iginla was held off the scoresheet four times in this six-game series. … Fan sign of the night: "Toews Wears Iginla Underoos" … All-time, the Flames and Hawks are now 2-2 in head-to-head playoff series -- and 9-9 in playoff games.
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