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Five reasons Blackhawks advanced to Western Final

by Brian Hedger /

It was the result hardly anybody expected from the Western Conference Second Round series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild.

Chicago's sweep of the best-of-7 series was impressive and surprising considering the Blackhawks' inconsistent play in the first round against the Nashville Predators and the Wild having Devan Dubnyk, arguably the hottest goalie entering the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Minnesota dispatched the St. Louis Blues in its opening series, eliminating the Central Division's top team in the regular season, and came into this series with a lot of confidence. Despite losing to Chicago in each of the previous two postseasons, the Wild felt this was their time to turn the tables.

Instead, they were beaten in four straight games by a team playing its best since late December.

Here are five reasons the Blackhawks advanced:

1. Crawford rebounded -- He doesn't like talking about the goalie flip-flopping that occurred in the first round, but one of Corey Crawford's biggest strengths is his ability to handle adversity. Every goalie goes through rough patches, but not every goalie can quickly bounce back.

Crawford has made a career out of it. After a save percentage of .809 in his first two games against Nashville, he made 137 saves on 144 shots in his next five games, a .951 save percentage. He allowed seven goals against the Wild for a 1.75 goals-against average and had a 30-save shutout in Game 3 to put the Blackhawks in position to sweep.

"Crawford, he's a star against us," Wild coach Mike Yeo said after Game 3. "He's [Martin] Brodeur. He's [Patrick] Roy. He's everybody against us, so we've got to find a way to solve that."

They never did, and the Blackhawks advanced to their fifth Western Conference Final in the past seven seasons.

2. Kane continues to amaze -- After undergoing surgery Feb. 25 to repair a fractured left clavicle, the Blackhawks said it would likely take 12 weeks for Patrick Kane to heal. That would have meant a return at some point in the conference final.

Instead, Kane beat the estimation by five weeks and has played all 10 games of the postseason for the Blackhawks. He's leading Chicago with seven goals and six assists, including five goals against the Wild. Kane scored at least a goal in all four games, including the one that decided Game 3, 1-0.

His puck possession was critical as well, because the Wild aim to frustrate opponents into costly turnovers.

3. Patience was a virtue -- Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said before the series that patience would be the most important term he'd use in the series. He was right. During the regular season, the Wild successfully frustrated the Blackhawks into making key errors with and without the puck.

In this series, the Blackhawks beat the Wild at their own game. Chicago started the scoring in all four games and made the Wild chase the lead.

Patrick Kane
Patrick Kane
Right Wing - CHI
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 6 | PTS: 13
SOG: 29 | +/-: 8
4. Stars shined again -- After rising to the occasion in the first round, the Blackhawks' core group of top players continued leading the way. They got goals from Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook and Brandon Saad against Minnesota, while Crawford was outstanding in net. All but Saad are signed to long-term contacts, and it was easy to see why in this series.

It's the reason their defense improved this series and why the Blackhawks were so opportunistic against the Wild despite getting outskated and outshot for the majority of the third period in Game 3.

5. Rolling up front -- Chicago wins most of its games whenever more than one of its forward lines is effective. All four were good against the Wild, which allowed Quenneville to have more options in the matchup game against Yeo.

The Blackhawks got a goal from each of the four lines in Game 2 and have shown in the first two series how versatile they can be, playing a more fast-paced game against Nashville and locking down defensively against Minnesota. Each of their Stanley Cup championship teams in 2010 and 2013 had lots of depth up front, and this team boasts the same advantage.

The third line of Sharp, Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen is playing like a third top-six group, and the fourth line is giving Quenneville exactly the kind of grind he wants.

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