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'Mighty Hawks' ready for next challenge

by Larry Wigge /

"There are people coming into this building expecting a big performance by Bruce Springsteen tomorrow night. But I don't know how even The Boss can rock this building any more than it rocked today."
-- Patrick Kane

CHICAGO -- "Here come the Hawks, the mighty Blackhawks."

The theme song that has greeted the Chicago Blackhawks onto the ice for decades could never have been more apropos than at the United Center Monday evening after they defeated the Vancouver Canucks 7-5 in Game 6 to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

"That third period was as electric as any I've ever played in," Patrick Kane said, raising his voice so he could be heard amidst all the excitement in the dressing room after he scored a pair of third-period goals to complete his first playoff hat trick. "But when we raised our sticks at center to salute the crowd, I had ever bigger chills running down my spine.

"There are people coming into this building expecting a big performance by Bruce Springsteen (Tuesday) night. But I don't know how even The Boss can rock this building any more than it rocked today."

Not a bad start for the upstart and inexperienced Blackhawks. They not only made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but after winning six-game series' against Calgary and Vancouver in the first two rounds, they have advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 1995.

Next up, Detroit or Anaheim.

Scotty Bowman, the former three-time Stanley Cup champion coach of the Red Wings, is currently the senior advisor for the Hawks. Walking into the dressing room with captain Jonathan Toews after Monday's game, Bowman jokingly told Toews that he would help him go through tapes of the Red Wings Tuesday, before Detroit takes a 3-2 lead into Game 6 of its semifinal series against Anaheim.

"We've looked at the big picture with all the young guys we have on this team," said Toews, who scored the game-winning goal, his second of the game, 49 seconds after Kane's second goal, "and we all expect more."

For the record, the Blackhawks lost four straight games to Central Division rival Detroit -- including a pair of shootouts and the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field on New Year's Day -- before finishing out the year with 4-2 and 3-0 victories on the final two days of the regular season. Chicago held a 3-1 edge over Anaheim, winning the last two games in the series.

Young. Energetic. But maybe the Hawks are not in such a bad position.

"If anything, we tend to be inconsistent individually," winger Patrick Sharp said. "But when the first line doesn't score, the third or fourth line does, so there's consistency in our inconsistency."

Don't expect the Hawks to make wholesale changes in their lineup or style of play no matter who they face.

"We're not going to change anything," Toews said. "We play hard, we play tough and we play fast. And that's not going to change no matter if we play the Wings or the Ducks."

Obviously, the Red Wings play a finesse, puck-possession game and they're solid man-on-man defensively, trying to force opponents to the outside. The Ducks just bang with you and go right at you with a lot of size, offensively and defensively. But there's been no back down from the Hawks against nasty Calgary or skilled Vancouver.

The Blackhawks are showing off an offense that can come at you from anywhere. When Dustin Byfuglien recorded his first two-goal game in the playoffs in Game 5, he became the sixth different Chicago player with a multiple-goal game in this year's postseason, joining Toews, Kane, Sharp, Martin Havlat and Dave Bolland. The Red Wings, with four, are the only other team with more than three such players in the 2009 playoffs.

What Detroit or Anaheim will learn about the Hawks is simple: Don't take their inexperience for granted.

Chicago Blackhawks Playoff Gear"They're a young team, but they play with the confidence like they've been there before," Canucks winger Daniel Sedin said afterward. "They're fun to watch ... except, of course, when you have to play against them.

"They roll four lines, play with a lot of energy. You find yourself backing up to try to defend them with their speed."

And a mobile defense complements the team's skilled and swift forwards.

"They are one of the best skilled offensive teams in this era," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "Still, a lot of people have downplayed their defense. Not us. Their structure when they don't have the puck is strong defensively. And when they do have the puck, their puck management is really good.

"Their transition, whether it's going from defense to offense or offense to defense, is quick. Their ability to make a good first pass took away a lot of our offense."

A quick transition has always been the staple in coach Joel Quenneville's teams in St. Louis, Colorado and Chicago.

Canucks center Ryan Johnson, who played for Quenneville in St. Louis, said, "Joel has never been a coach to take away from his team's creativity. He wants them to show off their skills and play within the system. There are no robots out there."

Robots? Not the Blackhawks, whose creativity and production have paid dividends in the form of three or more goals in nine of their 12 playoff games.
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