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Blackhawks sweep Wild, advance to conference final

by Corey Masisak / NHL.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For the fifth time in seven seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks will play in the Western Conference Final.

For the third time in as many years, the Minnesota Wild will spend the offseason trying to get over the fact that the Blackhawks ended their Stanley Cup Playoff run.

The Blackhawks completed a sweep of the Wild in the Western Conference Second Round with a 4-3 victory in Game 4 on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.

"I think it just shows that we like playing at this time of year," Chicago forward Patrick Kane said. "It's the best time of year to play. When you think of the playoffs and going through the whole process of going round by round, and you get a new matchup with a different team every time, it is fun for us, and we get excited. We have great fans at our backs. The weather gets a little nicer. The city of Chicago starts buzzing a little bit. It is just a fun city to play in."

Chicago never trailed in the series, but the clinching game was not without drama. Minnesota scored two goals 51 seconds apart with goaltender Devan Dubnyk pulled and had 87 seconds to try to complete a furious three-goal comeback.

The final seconds were frantic, but the ending for the Wild, a solemn handshake line with the Blackhawks, has become too familiar. They have won three Stanley Cup Playoff games in three years against Chicago.

"It's really frustrating because it just didn't feel like a sweep," Wild forward Thomas Vanek said. "That's a good team over there. They know how to win. Sometimes it's just a matter of bounces. That's a team that's won two Stanley Cups. They know how to win. We didn't play well enough."

Kane, Brent Seabrook, Andrew Shaw, and Marian Hossa scored for the Blackhawks. Goalie Corey Crawford made 34 saves.

Chicago became the first team to reach the NHL's final four at least five times in a seven-year span since the Colorado Avalanche did it six times from 1996-2002. The opponent in the Western Conference Final will be either the Anaheim Ducks or Calgary Flames; the Ducks lead the best-of-7 second-round series 2-1, with Game 4 to be played Friday in Calgary (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

The Blackhawks continue to be the best team in the salary-cap era at closing out playoff series. They are 14-4 in potential series-clinching games since Kane and Jonathan Toews arrived in 2007-08, including 13-2 when it isn't Game 7.

Chicago also won for the 30th time this season without a loss (30-0-0) when leading after two periods.

"It was little more reserved than years past, but guys felt pretty good about it," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. "We appreciate how hard it is to win a playoff series, to beat a team like Minnesota. We're proud of the accomplishment to get out of the division. We think it's a pretty tough division to play in. Ton of enthusiasm going forward. We can't wait to get back in the conference finals and try to win another series."

Aside from a couple of desperation goals in Game 4 with six attackers on the ice, Minnesota could not find enough offense to topple Chicago. Before those two, Kane had scored as many goals as the Wild in the series.

While Chicago's star players were pacing its offense, Minnesota's were frustrated by missed opportunities.

Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund each scored his lone goal of the series in Game 1. Jason Pominville's only goal made it 4-2 on Thursday. Vanek and captain Mikko Koivu never scored one.

"Certainly, their big guys, they've got guys that are a little bit different from our guys, that's one thing," Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said. "We've got guys that do tremendous things for us too. We might not have a guy that's going to get 100 points a year for us right now, but we have guys who are going to contribute offensively, but they play the game a certain way and that allows us to be successful as a team. Right now, we're a good team and we have to find a way to be the best team."

Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter also scored for the Wild on Thursday, and Dubnyk made 21 saves.

Dubnyk became the second 2015 Vezina Trophy finalist to lose his award-worthy form against the Blackhawks in these playoffs. He made saves on 100 of 111 shots for a .901 save percentage, well shy of the .936 he had after arriving in a Jan. 14 trade with the Arizona Coyotes and making his debut with the Wild the following night.

Dubnyk and Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne are two of the three Vezina finalists. They combined for a .906 save percentage against the Blackhawks in the postseason.

"[I] feel sick. Doesn't feel right," Dubnyk said. "To be with the group that we have, to finish it that way, it just doesn't feel right."

Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival's left leg buckled on him in the second period near the Chicago blue line shortly before Minnesota's first goal. Rozsival was unable to put any weight on his left leg as he was helped off the ice; he did not return.

"Tough loss," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Rozsival, who had averaged 18:34 of ice time in the playoffs. "Doesn't look good."

Kane's seven playoff goals are second to the Tampa Bay Lightning's Tyler Johnson (eight), and his 13 points are second to the Anaheim Ducks' Corey Perry (14). The original recovery timeline after he sustained a fractured clavicle Feb. 24 was up to 12 weeks, but he returned in seven.

"I still think there's some areas that I can try to improve a little bit," Kane said. "I play with some great players who have given me some great chances to get some great looks, and it is going in the back of the net."

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