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Analysis: Elite talent, skill keep Blackhawks rolling

by Corey Masisak /

CHICAGO -- Someday the top players on the Chicago Blackhawks will reach an inevitable point on the aging curve.

They will slow down and not be as productive. Time will win, even if Marian Hossa is trying to refute that suggestion. It is also possible the core of the Blackhawks will be broken up, or at least altered, because of the salary cap.

For now, the Blackhawks remain the most talented team in the NHL. The Minnesota Wild played pretty well in Game 1 of this Western Conference Second Round series and less so in Game 2, but the talent and skill of the Blackhawks was obvious.

"They have that killer instinct," Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. "Their top players know how to score. I made a mistake on that first [goal Sunday] and it's in the back of the net."

With a healthy Patrick Kane, Chicago is the deepest team in the League at forward, and that combined with a few excellent defensemen and an excellent coach can help withstand the issues they might have at times with age and depth on the blue line, and overall play in net.

There has been plenty said or written about Chicago's "best players being the best players." It is a common refrain for any series every spring during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Wild players are now answering questions about whether or not their top players need to match the Blackhawks.

A big part of the success for Chicago is the Blackhawks simply have more "top players" than any other team in the NHL. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have been great postseason performers in their careers. They are elite players, among the best in the world at their positions.

They also have Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook around to support them. The Tampa Bay Lightning might be the closest, but no other team can match pure talent among the top eight players on the roster with the Blackhawks.

Wild coach Mike Yeo was asked before Game 2 what intangible makes the Blackhawks so tough in the postseason. His immediate response had nothing to do with what people consider to be intangibles.

"No. 1, it is talent," Yeo said.

Steven Stamkos didn't score a goal for a while, and that became a dominant storyline for the Lightning. They advanced past the Detroit Red Wings because there are a lot of other talented players on that team, but often "star player X doesn't score" is the end of the line for teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

When Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom or Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin don't score goals, the spotlight on their lack of production is intense. It was the same for Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in recent postseasons. The top St. Louis Blues players not named Vladimir Tarasenko are dealing with that scrutiny now as well.

Crosby and Malkin don't have teammates like Saad and Sharp to carry the team when they cannot. Ovechkin and Backstrom's supporting cast improved this season, as did Getzlaf and Perry's, and that might help those duos find the postseason success that has been lacking in recent years.

At the moment, Hossa is in the midst of a goal-scoring "slump." He hasn't scored a goal this postseason. He does have eight assists and the Blackhawks have lit up two of the three Vezina Trophy finalists while scoring 27 goals in eight games.

"It's not that big of a deal. I think we're getting the goals we need from different guys," Toews said. "I always tell guys – I think last year it was [Sharp], maybe the year before it was myself – guys that always expect themselves to produce and score goals, just got to keep reminding yourself that they're going to come at the right time."

The Blackhawks have a lot of great players, and coach Joel Quenneville gets them to play the way he wants. Sure, the Blackhawks have great two-way players like Toews, Hossa and Keith, and the all-around abilities of guys like Saad and Kane might be a bit underrated, but the biggest common denominator is talent.

The salary cap might claim one of the core players this offseason, but general manager Stan Bowman might also get creative and avoid that. Saad and rookie Teuvo Teravainen are young and could be developing into world-class players. If the rest of the core ages as gracefully as Hossa has, the window to complete for championships might remain open for them for several more seasons.

Sometimes a team has been able to slow down the Blackhawks' talent, the way the Red Wings did for four games in 2013. Few teams can match them for seven games the way the Los Angeles Kings did in an incredible series in 2014. The Wild will try to do the same, beginning in Game 3 of this series Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

"We have a lot of great players on our team, so I think that's why we're playing good in the postseason," Teravainen said.

That is a simple answer. It is also correct.

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