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Blackhawks advance, await Avalanche-Wild winner

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks found a way to weather the storm Sunday at United Center against the St. Louis Blues and it mirrored what they did in a tough Western Conference First Round series.

After falling behind 2-0 in the best-of-7 series, the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks won four straight games by winning 5-1 in Game 6 to keep their hopes of repeating alive.

Chicago will face the winner of the series between the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. Colorado leads that series 3-2 with a chance to close it out in Game 6 on Monday at Xcel Energy Center.

Duncan Keith scored a goal and had three assists and goalie Corey Crawford made 35 saves to lead the way. Bryan Bickell, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Andrew Shaw also scored for Chicago.

"We knew those first two games could've gone either way and we knew that we didn't play our best hockey," said Keith, who matched his career high for points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. "It's a seven-game series for a reason. We've been through enough playoff series to realize that. It's not a sprint. It's a marathon."

The second period of Game 6 might've felt like a marathon to Crawford and the guys who play on the Blackhawks' penalty-killing units. Together, they were forced to kill four of six penalties to keep it tied 1-1 after 40 minutes.

"I think both our PK and [Crawford] won the game and the series, ultimately," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think that was a big factor in us getting through this series. It was a very competitive series. We had six straight penalties against us [Sunday] and getting through that and then scoring on our power play was obviously huge. I thought that was the [biggest] factor. They were dominating the first 40 minutes there and we came back with maybe our best period of the year."

In short, the Blackhawks did what they usually do when given a chance to clinch a series. They ended it.

Since 2009, Chicago is now 11-2 in series-clinching games. Much like a year ago, when the Blackhawks overcame a 3-1 deficit against the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Semifinals, grit and determination were as vital to winning as speed and skill.

"It took a few games to get that emotion into it, and I think once we got going we carried the play for portions of the game," Keith said. "But you've got to give St. Louis credit too. They had momentum too in certain games and they carried the play too. They had lots of chances and shots, but I think when we're fully engaged we're a real tough team to beat."

The Blues, meanwhile, are forced to live with an empty feeling for a second straight offseason. They lost four straight games in the first round after taking a 2-0 lead for a second straight playoffs, after failing to eliminate the Los Angeles Kings in the same fashion a year ago.

St. Louis, which outshot Chicago 36-27, went 0-for-6 on the power play and finished 2-for-29 in the series for a success rate of 6.9 percent. That was basically the difference in the game and series, that and Chicago's biggest weapons coming up with huge, momentum-swinging goals at key times.

After scoring in overtime of Game 5, Toews made it 2-1 44 seconds into the third on carryover power-play time from the end of the second and Sharp made it 3-1 1:17 later off a breakaway.

Keith also got his defense partner, Brent Seabrook, back after a three-game suspension for a hit on Blues captain David Backes in Game 2 at Scottrade Center.

Seabrook finished with two assists and a plus-three rating in the game and had six points (two goals) in the three games he played. It didn't take him long to make his presence felt either.

Seabrook picked up the primary assist on Bickell's goal to open the scoring 4:12 into the game. After collecting a point-to-point pass from Keith, he threw a wrist shot toward the net from the right point that Bickell tipped past Blues goalie Ryan Miller for a 1-0 lead.

The Blues made a series of mistakes that allowed the play to happen, but they kept working the rest of the period and eventually knotted it 1-1 on T.J. Oshie's goal with 3:32 left. He scored his second goal of the series by redirecting a feed from Alexander Steen through Crawford's pads from the front of the crease after Steen had carried the puck around the back of the net.

The Blues dominated the second period thanks to four power plays, including a four-minute advantage after Marian Hossa was given a double minor at 7:15 for high-sticking Steen.

They outshot the Blackhawks by a 17-3 margin in the second and held a 28-11 advantage in shots starting the third. They couldn't put the puck in the net.

Patrik Berglund nearly pushed St. Louis ahead 20 seconds into a power play caused by Toews' high-sticking minor, but Crawford got a piece of a loose puck heading toward the goal line with his glove by diving backward and knocking it away toward the left post.

Crawford made a couple more big saves toward the end of Hossa's penalty, but his busy period wasn't finished. Sharp was called for tripping at 15:47 and put the Blues back on the power play. St. Louis nearly scored on a stuff attempt by Backes at the left post, but a video review showed the whistle blew to stop play before the puck trickled into the net.

"We have to work for our chances," St. Louis defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "We're a team that scored a lot of goals around the net. Dirty goals. We probably didn't do enough of that, didn't get enough pucks through to the net, battling and that sort of thing. On the flipside, they've got some skilled guys and if you give them opportunities and some space, they're going to finish."

That's exactly what happened after Crawford and the penalty killers in front of him finally got the Blackhawks off the hook. Chicago drew its own power play when Bouwmeester was called for tripping at 19:05 and Toews scored his third goal of the series to start the third, taking a feed from Keith and roofing a wrist shot through traffic into the top left corner.

Sharp made it 3-1 off a breakaway at 2:01.

After blocking Kevin Shattenkirk's point shot, Sharp took off into the neutral zone and got a short pass from Patrick Kane at top speed for the scoring chance. Shattenkirk got his stick up in Sharp's mouth on the rush, drawing a likely penalty shot, but the puck wound up in the net after Miller missed a poke check and fell to the ice.

"The third goal was really a backbreaker for us," Blues coach Hitchcock said. "That was really the one that hurt because we've been chasing all series and been able to catch up in games, but the third goal really took the wind out of our sails. We earned the power plays. We earned the power plays because of the way we worked and battled. We played a great first two periods. I thought the third goal, you could see a big sag on the team after that."

Shaw made it 4-1 at 7:30 by cruising through the slot and tipping Keith's slapper from the point past Miller. Keith tacked on his second goal of the series with 2:55 left to finish the scoring.

"This was a tough series," Shaw said. "They're a physical team. They're a great team over there and obviously got a lot of big bodies they're going to throw around, but we just kind of tried weathering the storm every game and used our legs and brains instead of our shoulders."

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