ST. PAUL, Minn. – Not to be flippant, and with apologies to our friends in the great state of Minnesota, but … what’s the word? It’s right here on the tip of the tongue. Ah, here it is.
The Blackhawks are going to their fifth Western Conference final in the past seven seasons because the Wild don’t have anybody like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa. The Hawks roll out talent as if it were paper towels. Then they wipe up playoff opponents with it, as they did in a 4-3 Game 4 victory Thursday night.
And when push came to shove came to big save in this second-round series, the Wild didn’t have a goalie like Corey Crawford, whose legal first name is actually “Much-Maligned.’’
Bring on the next opponent, whether it be Anaheim or Calgary.
The Hawks are back, not that they ever went anywhere. The natural order has been restored. The universe is back in balance. A 4-0 sweep of the Wild, the best team in the league in the second half of the regular season, saw to that.
If you wanted any more proof that the NHL’s regular season doesn’t mean much to a team like the Hawks, who are like the classic bored, gifted student, this was it.
“I think it just shows we like playing this time of year,’’ Kane said of the team’s fifth conference final. “It’s the best time of year to play. When you think of playoffs and going through the whole process of round by round and you get a different team every time, it’s fun for us, and we get excited about it.
“We have some great fans at our back. The weather gets a little nice, and the city of Chicago starts buzzing a little bit. It’s just a fun city to play in front of.’’
The bonus is that the Hawks will get a nice long rest after dispatching the Wild so quickly. It means they’ll have the luxury of answering questions about whether rust is a bad thing. It’s about as bad as too much money.
It seems likely the Hawks will be without the services of defenseman Michal Rozsival, unless it turns out that an ankle that rotates 360 degrees is completely normal. He was hurt in gruesome fashion in the second period.
It was the one dark cloud in otherwise warm and sunny series for the Hawks.
Game 4 wasn’t easy. The puck seemed to be in the Hawks’ end most of the last two periods, mostly because the Wild were ferocious. That’s what desperate teams do.
But the Blackhawks led 2-1 after two periods, on goals by Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw, and that meant doom for the Wild. Going into this game, the Hawks were 29-0 when leading going into the third period this season.
Kane and Hossa scored third-period goals, but give it to the Wild. They fought doom with everything they had. They scored two late goals after pulling their goaltender, to cut the lead to 4-3.
“That was crazy,’’ Crawford said. “I almost entered best comebacks of all time. Thank God that didn’t happen.’’
The Hawks are old hands at this playoff thing, and it must get old for the Wild, who have lost three years in a row to the Hawks in the conference semifinals. Kane, in particular, lives for these moments. Five goals in four games against Minnesota was almost a shrug for him. He has 104 points in 103 career playoff games. Oh, and he’s only 26.
The Blackhawks are in the business of winning Stanley Cups. They have two of them since 2010. The Wild simply were in the way.
Seabrook gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead on what can kindly be called a sneaky wrist shot from inside the blue line. It beat Devan Dubnyk high on the glove side, and it never should have seen the back of the net. But that was the difference between the Hawks and the Wild in this series. The Wild didn’t take advantage of opportunities, the perfect example being Ryan Suter’s whiff of an open shot in the first period. The Hawks took advantage of opportunities that weren’t even there.
The truth is that the Blackhawks didn’t even need the luck or the gifts. They were simply the better team. To overcome a group like the Hawks, you have to answer talent with talent. Minnesota answered talent with methodical hockey throughout much of this series.