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Blackhawks vs Wild

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Blackhawks vs Wild - 2013 SCP Conference Quarterfinals

Harding shines as battle with MS wages on

Dan Myers - Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The simple fact that Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding was able to suit up for Game 1 of a Western Conference Quarterfinal series Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks could be considered a minor miracle.

His 35-save effort, considering the circumstances, is nothing short of astounding.

Harding's story began this past summer. As September drew to a close, Harding didn't feel right during workouts and when he would skate. His vision was clouded with dots and the pain in his neck and back wouldn't go away.

A visit to the doctor revealed Harding had multiple sclerosis, a diagnosis Harding revealed publicly just after Thanksgiving.

Harding plays well after subbing for Backstrom

Brian Hedger - Correspondent

CHICAGO – It happened before the puck officially dropped on this Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.

Josh Harding
Goalie - MIN
GAA: 1.56 | SVP: 0.946
While going through pregame warm-ups at United Center, Minnesota starting goalie Niklas Backstrom left the ice after appearing to stretch awkwardly to collect a rebound of a shot by a teammate.

He soon was scratched and replaced by backup Josh Harding – who'd only played in five games for the Wild during the regular season while missing more than two months dealing with effects of multiple sclerosis.

Chicago won 2-1 late in overtime on a goal by Bryan Bickell and Harding was splendid, but afterward there wasn't much information released about Backstrom – other than he suffered a lower-body injury.

Unlike 2012, Toews healthy, comfortable for playoffs

Brian Hedger - Correspondent

CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews isn't a big fan of the unknown.

The captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, who turned 25 Monday, is a lot like his coach in this way. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville likes predictable, consistent players almost as much as he likes victory cigars. That's why he loves Toews, who prides himself on giving a consistent, elite-level effort and being as predictable as possible.

"He's only 25, but he leads by example first and brings it every single night," said 38-year-old Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers, who has played with a number of good leaders in his 15 NHL seasons. "He sets the entire tone for our team."

Blackhawks rule out Emery, Bolland for Game 1

Brian Hedger - Correspondent

CHICAGO -- As the regular season wound to a close, Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville developed a stock answer for inquiries about which of his goalies would start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

He would expand the answer for questions about players maybe getting different roles in the postseason, saying, "Well, sometimes the toughest decisions are made for you," and look for the next question.

As it turned out, Quenneville was right.

Goalie Ray Emery and center Dave Bolland will miss Tuesday's Game 1 of the Blackhawks' Western Conference quarterfinal series against the eighth-seeded Minnesota Wild at United Center each with a lower-body injury, so those are two decisions that were out of the coach's hands.

"We're going to rule them out for [Tuesday]," Quenneville said. "We'll say day-to-day, both lower-bodies and we're hopeful they're both going to be on the ice real soon."

X-Factor: Pominville hopes to be Wild's missing link

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

Veteran forward Jason Pominville spent nearly eight seasons of his career in the NHL hoping to rekindle some magic with the Buffalo Sabres in their quest for that elusive Stanley Cup trophy.

Jason Pominville
Right Wing - MIN
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 20 | PTS: 34
SOG: 118 | +/-: 1

Now he has a similar goal with the Minnesota Wild, a team that qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in five seasons by winning its final game of the season to outlast the hard-charging Columbus Blue Jackets.

It's no easy task, but Pominville, the former captain of the Sabres, possesses an energy and infectious spirit that has already rubbed off on his new teammates. There is some concern about the hit to the head Pominville took from Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown on April 23, but the hope is he will not be sidelined too long. In fact, he may be ready for Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.


Why the Wild will win the Stanley Cup

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

Fans of the Minnesota Wild can rejoice -- Stanley Cup Playoffs hockey is back following four consecutive non-playoff years.

After the heart-pounding finish that was needed to qualify, which included a one-goal victory in the season's final game to hold off the hard-charging Columbus Blue Jackets for the final spot in the Western Conference, Minnesota will look to advance beyond the quarterfinal round for the second time in 10 seasons.

Heck, the playoffs should be a piece of cake after the roller-coaster ride the Wild put their fans through to close out the regular season.

No team will be an easy out in the playoffs, and the Wild have the makeup of a team that could fashion a long and prosperous run if it plays its cards right. The new faces brought in prior to the season and at the NHL Trade Deadline have created a new attitude on the ice and in the locker room.

Five Questions: Wild ready to start anew in playoffs

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

So what does the Minnesota Wild need to do in order to make their first Stanley Cup Playoff appearance in five seasons a memorable one?

The Wild will need Niklas Backstrom to elevate his play if they hope to challenge the mighty Blackhawks. (Photo: Andy King/NHLI)

Though the club certainly has its work cut out with a first-round showdown with the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks, coach Mike Yeo has the personnel required to make life difficult for the opposition for as long as Minnesota's run lasts.

The team persevered down the stretch to qualify for the postseason during the NHL's final weekend of the regular season and will look to continue its winning ways.

Here are five questions players need to answer to survive the rigors that accompany the NHL's second season:

Why the Blackhawks will win the Stanley Cup

Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

Everything that could have gone right for the Chicago Blackhawks did during the regular season.

If the path stays clear in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- meaning no debilitating injuries or hiccups in goal -- there's every reason to believe the Blackhawks can become the first Presidents' Trophy winner to win the Stanley Cup since the Detroit Red Wings in 2008.

Just look at the items necessary to win the Stanley Cup, a checklist that has been proven time and again, and it's obvious Chicago has the ingredients of a champion.

Experience? Check.

Nine of Chicago's regular 18 skaters played on the 2010 Cup-winning team. Ray Emery and Daniel Carcillo also have played in a Stanley Cup Final.

Goaltending? Check.

Five Questions: Blackhawks must handle pressure

Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

If there was a question the Chicago Blackhawks couldn't answer during their remarkable regular season, it hasn't been thought of yet. Even the most critical analyst can't invent an issue the Blackhawks didn't overcome.

The Blackhawks dealt with injuries to star players, the attention created by their historic season -- starting with a 24-game points streak, and the lull that followed when the streak inevitably ended -- and still won the Presidents' Trophy by a landslide.

Chicago now has an entirely new and greater challenge in front of it, which means new questions to answer. Here are five:

X-Factor: Bolland's versatility key Hawks' component

Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

There are two ways Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville feels he can use center Dave Bolland. One puts him in the spotlight, the other more in the shadows, a place where Bolland has found most of his success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Dave Bolland
Center - CHI
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 14
SOG: 46 | +/-: -7
No matter where Quenneville slots Bolland, Chicago's ultimate success or failure this spring partly hinges on how he performs in his given role. It has been that way since 2009.

"The playoffs are when you need to be at the top of your game," said Bolland, who missed the final three games of the regular season with a lower-body injury. "If you're not [at the top of your game] in the playoffs, then what's the point, really? Once you get the taste of hoisting the Stanley Cup once, you want to do it again."

Bolland has hoisted it before and historically he's been at the top of his game in the playoffs. He has 37 points in 49 games, including 16 in 22 games to help the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup three years ago.

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