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Blackhawks vs Wild

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Blackhawks vs Wild - 2013 SCP Conference Quarterfinals

Quenneville still waiting for Blackhawks' next level

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

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.

Five reasons Blackhawks advanced to second round

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

CHICAGO -- After consecutive exits from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, the Chicago Blackhawks again know what it's like to win a playoff series.

Prior to ending the Minnesota Wild's season in five games with a 5-1 win Thursday at United Center, the Blackhawks' previous experience closing a series was beating the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.

Three years later, Chicago again entered the playoffs as favorites after winning the Presidents' Trophy and the Blackhawks are vastly different from the team that lost a year ago in the first round to the Phoenix Coyotes. The roster, however, largely is the same, right down to the goaltending tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery.

So what's different a year later that allowed the Blackhawks to advance to the conference semifinals? Here are five reasons the Blackhawks still have their sights set on the Cup:

Five reasons Wild were eliminated from playoffs

Dan Myers - NHL.com Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In some ways, the 2012-13 season can be seen as a success for the Minnesota Wild. The franchise made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in five years.

Defenseman Ryan Suter, signed last summer to a 13-year, $98 million contract, is a Norris Trophy finalist and through one year looks like he'll be worth every penny.

Fellow July 4 signee Zach Parise has given the franchise a legitimate superstar to build around up front.

The Wild, loaded with one of the best farm systems in the NHL, were able to get their first wave of young players -- namely defenseman Jonas Brodin and forwards Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker -- important playoff experience they can build on for the future. They should only get better.

But for Minnesota, 5-1 losers to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 5 of its Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup, its season is over. Here are five reasons why:

Commitment to defense sparks Blackhawks' offense

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

CHICAGO -- The offensive skill the Chicago Blackhawks possess often overshadows what they do defensively, but that side of the rink shouldn't be taken lightly.

In fact, it's a big reason for all the accomplishments they've earned this season. The Blackhawks won the Presidents' Trophy with 77 points in 48 games and helped goalies Corey Crawford and Ray Emery earn the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed (97). Their defensive effort also is a big factor in their 3-1 lead against the Minnesota Wild in their best-of-7 Western Conference Quarterfinal.

Chicago can close the series in Game 5 on Thursday at United Center (9:30 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS2, NBCSN), but it might be a different scenario were it not for the Blackhawks' work in the defensive zone.

Wild's Harding leaves game after one period

Dan Myers - NHL.com Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding left Game 4 of his team's Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks with a lower-body injury.

With 4:23 remaining in the first period, Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews attacked the Wild net with the puck. After going forehand to backhand, Toews lost control of the puck; Harding sprawled to make the stop and Toews landed awkwardly on the goaltender's left leg.

Harding remained down for several seconds before getting to his feet. Play continued for more than a minute until the next whistle and Harding could get looked at by a trainer.

Wild's Cullen takes young Zucker under his wing

Dan Myers - NHL.com Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Matt Cullen has worn many hats for the Minnesota Wild this season.

Playmaker. Goal scorer. Catalyst.

Matt Cullen
Center - MIN
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 3
SOG: 5 | +/-: 2

But his latest role is the one that may certainly leave the most lasting impact on the franchise located in Cullen's home state: mentor.

Cullen said it doesn't seem like that long ago when he was the rookie. When he broke in with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1997, Cullen said it was Ted Drury, Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne who took him under their wings.

Now, it's Cullen with left wing linemate Jason Zucker -- 16 years his junior. When Cullen broke into the League, Zucker was a 5-year-old in Las Vegas. Ice was a dream, much less ice hockey.

Passing makes Chicago's Kane a double threat

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

Patrick Kane did it again Friday night at United Center.

The Chicago Blackhawks star forward brought the crowd to its feet

late in the third period of a 5-2 victory against the Minnesota Wild in their Western Conference Quarterfinals series, reprising a role made famous by basketball's Magic Johnson, the play-making star of the Los Angeles Lakers during the height of their "Showtime" era.

He drew almost the entire Wild defense to the slot, looking for a shot, but switched plans after a stick lift denied it. Kane then calmly dangled the puck on his stick, twirled around in the slot and dished it off to Patrick Sharp, wide open in the left circle for an easy tap-in goal.

"Showtime!" Kane screamed into the wireless mic he was wearing. "Showtime! That's hockey, baby!"

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

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

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).

Sharp still trying to make most of frustrating season

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

CHICAGO -- The sound was unmistakable.

Long after a Thursday practice had finished at the Chicago Blackhawks’ practice facility, forward Patrick Sharp was on the ice by himself. He shot puck after puck at an empty net, ripping some into the net and others off the metal of the crossbar, even into the glass behind it -- a sound he'd rather not hear so much.

"Just a little practice," Sharp said a day later, after the Blackhawks' morning skate at United Center prior to Game 2 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Minnesota Wild on Friday (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC). "I've done that a few times trying to get back to basics and fire some pucks. It's nice to just kind of be out there on the ice and work on some things you don't often get a chance to [practice]."

Blackhawks' third line making major impact

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

CHICAGO -- It's a line that's centered by an energetic rookie and two guys playing for their next contract.

It's also become a line for the Chicago Blackhawks that needs to be accounted for after already helping in a big way in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw -- the rookie center -- combine to form the Blackhawks' third line, and there's a reason they've stuck together almost the entire season.

"I didn't think we were great during the first five games [of the season], but we made some strides during that stretch and after that we started playing better," Stalberg said. "It seems like we kept improving throughout the year and getting better. I thought we had a pretty good year overall."

Now it's all about the playoffs.

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