Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer
CHICAGO -- One has to wonder what Chicago Blackhawks President John McDonough is thinking right now.
It wasn't too long ago he was comparing his team's six-game elimination of the Calgary Flames in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to graduation day for a group of ambitious college students.
After witnessing his team dump the Vancouver Canucks in the same number of games following another come-from-behind 7-5 thriller before 22,687 rowdies in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinal on Monday, McDonough might consider this accomplishment identical to nailing down a six-digit salary following their first job interview.
"Yeah, I'd agree with that," said 19-year-old Patrick Kane. "Winning this series was like getting our first job after graduation."
Is a promotion on the horizon?
The fact of the matter remains 11 players on Chicago's roster were experiencing their first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season -- including Kane and captain Jonathan Toews. In the end, these young whiz kids of the Windy City proved too hot to handle.
Kane, Toews and rookie Kris Versteeg, who average 20.3 years in age, would actually combine for six goals against a Canucks squad that had but three first-year postseason performers in their lineup.
The Blackhawks have certainly come a long way. And those playoffs beards on these 20-something kids still have time to grow.
"All 11 of those guys got all the experience they needed 10 minutes into the first period of our first playoff game," Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell said. "Whatever the obstacle, you go after it and chase it and you go hard. For us, there's enough experience around this locker room and even those guys who hadn't played in a playoff game prior to this season, like Ben Eager and Adam Burish, are heart-and-soul guys. They gave us jump and got us going."
It will likely go down as one of the more memorable third periods ever staged at United Center. Locked in a 3-3 stalemate, the clubs would combine for six goals, including three unanswered by Chicago in a span of 3:17 late in the frame to put the finishing touches on a two-goal triumph that sent the hometown faithful cheering uncontrollably all the way to the parking lot.
"I'm happy for our players and our fans," said a composed Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon in the winning locker room. "This team has shown so much character. They're playing beyond their years with the amount of composure, intelligence and maturity they have displayed this playoff season. They're for real and I'm so proud of them. It's the best group of players I've ever been associated with in any aspect of this sport."
Is their any question these young Hawks are one heck of a resilient bunch. They proved that against Calgary and goalie Miikka Kiprusoff and did it again against Vancouver and captain Roberto Luongo -- how's that for a one-two punch? It would have been easy to give in after scoring their first postseason series triumph in over a decade, but this team had other plans.
Make no mistake, Chicago proved to be the better team in this series. They possessed the top two defensemen in Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith and were the Lamborghini to Vancouver's Pinto on the offensive end. Chicago's speed and transition kept the Canucks backpedaling much of this series -- even during a Game 3 loss when the Canucks supposedly played their best game despite being outshot by the Blackhawks, 24-21. The Hawks were more composed and exhibited a propensity to grit their teeth in the trenches behind the play of Andrew Ladd, Troy Bouwer, Burish and Dustin Byfuglien, whose legend, it seems, continues to grow with each passing victory.
And even when Vancouver clawed their way back from a 3-1 deficit in Game 6 to eventually take the lead, not once, but twice, it didn't matter.
The buildings in Calgary and Vancouver were loud, but these playoff-starved fans in Chicago have turned their building into the 'House of Blues' for the opposition. For rookie defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, playing with controlled emotion was probably the toughest chore he faced prior to opening faceoff on home ice.
"It's the loudest building I've played in during the playoffs by far," Hjalmarsson said of United Center. "It's an incredible feeling when you get out there. It gets you so pumped up, you actually have to calm down a bit before they drop the puck."
"This team has shown so much character. They're playing beyond their years with the amount of composure, intelligence and maturity they have displayed this playoff season. They're for real and I'm so proud of them. It's the best group of players I've ever been associated with in any aspect of this sport." -- Blackhawks General Manager Dale TallonIt was a night the Blackhawks welcomed their one-millionth fan for the 2008-09 season -- a record 1,006,920 to be exact. Yet another statement how far this team has come; averaging 22,578 fans through their first five home contests of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They're now 5-1 on home ice in the postseason. For the Blackhawks, there truly is no place like home.
And let's not forget Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who made the necessary stops when called upon at key moments in the game. Khabibulin made 14 saves in a Game 4 victory before stopping 19 shots in Game 5. He was called upon to make a series-high 33 stops on Monday. As the saying goes, it's not quantity but quality, and Khabibulin certainly made the most of the fine defensive play in front of him.
Think about it … Khabibulin had four victories in six games against a team that he hadn't beaten in 11 years prior to this postseason -- that doesn't just happen overnight.
"Khabie did very well controlling rebounds and we were trying to help him out in that area as well," Campbell said. "It's a lot of 5-man stuff in the neutral zone where we're just taking care of business. We're holding onto puck in our offensive zone and just working harder in other areas on the ice."
Contact Mike Morreale at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jonathan Toews took a feed from Martin Havlat while charging in back door on Roberto Luongo with his team on the power play and 6:11 remaining in the third period to give Chicago a 6-5 lead. The goal marked the fifth lead change of the game.
Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa notched his fourth and fifth assists of the postseason -- both in the second period when his team rallied into a 3-3 tie -- while playing a tough defensive game in front of goalie Roberto Luongo. Bieksa totaled 21:09 of ice time and finished with one blocked shot.
The Blackhawks notched their sixth comeback victory of the postseason on Monday, rallying from three deficits -- 1-0, 4-3 and 5-4 -- to eliminate the Canucks in six games in the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Blackhawks scored 13 of their 23 goals in this series at General Motors Place in Vancouver. Additionally 14 of the 23 goals came in the third period or overtime.
Think Chicago's Patrick Kane isn't enjoying his first postseason? The Buffalo, N.Y., native notched his team-leading sixth, seventh and eighth goals on Monday while also adding an assist.