ST. PAUL—Minnesota Nice.
That’s the unofficial statewide anthem. People here are cordial, friendly and proud of it. You betcha, as they say with a smile. This is a great place to live, and an even greater place to ask for directions.
What’s nice about Minnesota for the Blackhawks? They’re done with the Xcel Energy Center, and the Wild is in their rear view mirror too. In a Game 6 that could have gone either way, and often seemed inexorably pointing toward a Game 7, the defending Stanley Cup champions won, 2-1, Tuesday night on Patrick Kane’s goal at 9:42 of overtime.
So now there are only a half dozen teams of 16 left in the postseason chase. Four are from the Original Six, two are from California. One of the latter, the Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks, will be next for the Blackhawks, who enter the Western Conference Final for the fourth time in six years.
On Sunday in Chicago, Jonathan Toews notched the Mother’s Day of all crucial scores, his fourth winner of these playoffs. On this night, after Brent Seabrook’s drive took a fortuitous carom off the end boards, PatrickKane slipped past a jam featuring Peter Regin and Ryan Suter to dent the roof of Ilya Bryzgalov’s net on the backhand for his third winner of the postseason.
Stars shine when it matters, and count Corey Crawford in that galaxy. All he does is make important saves in important games. Without him, the Blackhawks would not have survived another evening of being outplayed for significant stretches. The Wild used to put opponents to sleep. Not now, not with speedsters like Erik Haula, a blur who tied the match 1-1 early in the second period. Four minutes or so later, Head Coach Joel Quenneville burned his timeout. That’s all you need to know about how the game was trending.
The Blackhawks did perk up in the extra period, but as Kane noted, they still haven’t played their best game yet. He said that frequently during the last few weeks, yet he finds it “exciting” that the franchise is halfway to another championship with its engine just purring instead of firing.
“Plus, we get a little rest now too,” added Kane in a victorious locker room that was rather subdued, reflecting the businesslike attitude of this group. Relief partly could have been a factor. The Minnesota assignment was different than the previous one against the St. Louis Blues, but competitive balance comes in various forms. The Wild did not perform as though to record a learning experience for posterity. The Wild often had the Blackhawks in knots, and on their heels.
Still, teams that have been there and express a desire to get there again do know how to finish. For closing the deal, Donald Trump has nothing on the Blackhawks. To wit:
- In the 2009 Conference quarterfinal against the Calgary Flames, the Blackhawks split the first four games before winning the next two, including the clincher on the road. It was the first postseason for Toews and Kane.
- In the 2009 Conference semifinal against the Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks won Game 5 on the road and Game 6 at home to win the series, 4-2.
- In the 2010 Conference semifinal against the Nashville Predators, the Blackhawks lost two of the first three games, then won three straight, including two on the road to win the series, 4-2.
- In the 2010 Final against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Blackhawks split the first four games before winning Game 5 at home and clinching in Game 6 at Philadelphia on Kane’s overtime goal.
- In the 2013 Conference semifinal, the Blackhawks lost three of the first four games, trailed Game 5 at Detroit, 2-1, after two periods, but won three in a row against the Red Wings.
- In the 2013 Final, the Blackhawks lost two of the first three games against the Boston Bruins, then won three straight to earn their second Stanley Cup, 4-2. The Blackhawks were 10-1 after Game 4 of those four series.
- In the previous series this postseason, the Blackhawks lost two games at St. Louis before winning the next four to eliminate the Blues.
- En route to two Stanley Cups, the Blackhawks played eight series in 2010 and 2013 for a total of 45 games, but only one Game 7 has been required — against Detroit in 2013, won in overtime at the United Center on Seabrook’s goal.
- Since 2009, the Blackhawks are 12-2 in clinching situations. Their only losses were Game 7 of 2011 in Vancouver, an overtime defeat, and a Game 5 loss to the Canucks at home in 2010. The Blackhawks won that series in Game 6.
Just like Tuesday night. You betcha.