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Blackhawks Fri May 08 2015

Blackhawks in Western Conference Final, Sweep Wild

Chicago Blackhawks Nothing this season has been particularly easy for the Blackhawks in terms wins. Even with a bit of a cushion, like in last night's Game 4 clincher in which the Hawks went up 4-1 late in the third period after Marian Hossa scored an empty-netter against the Wild in a six on four advantage, the Hawks managed to let Mike Yeo's team get dangerously close before closing it out by the final of 4-3.

For the first 57 minutes, the Hawks played about as solid as they have all season -- heck, the last few seasons -- by way of blocking shots (14 total), winning faceoffs at the dot (the Blackhawks have three in the top-20 this postseason in Jonathan Toews, Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette) and Corey Crawford finding his groove again in between the pipes. Oh yeah, and Patrick Kane doing his thing -- he scored nearly as many goals this series (5) as the entire Wild roster (7).

The final three minutes were another story, but one that proved to be near impossible to defend, especially with the Wild using a two-man advantage on two occasions. No matter, because the Hawks find themselves once again in the Western Conference final -- the team's third appearance in a row and fifth trip in the last seven seasons -- and look to make right on falling short last year.

The Wild came into this series confident as ever, looking for a little revenge of their own after being ousted by the Hawks the previous two seasons. The addition of Devan Dubnyk proved to be a strong move by general manager Chuck Fletcher, as his goaltending single-handedly carried his team to the playoffs.

With Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Thomas Vanek coming into their own, it seemed a tougher road than last season's four-games-to-two struggle was on the horizon. As it would turn out, the Hawks' talent outplayed that of the Wild and proved speed, above most everything else on the ice (Kane, Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw), kills the competition.

Crawford looked great again in net and managed to move horizontally quick enough to close off an open corner off of cross-ice passes -- those that managed to get through the defense. Crawford also managed to shrink the opposition's chances of getting an eye on net by way of being aggressive against the puck handler.

Crow is now 5-1 with a 2.60 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in these playoffs. The GAA is a little high, but considering what he gave up in Games 1 and 2 against Nashville, and the onslaught brought on by the Wild the last three minutes of Game 4, Crawford has been great, especially in Game 3's 1-0 shutout.

Teuvo Teraveinan has certainly come into his own this series, earning more minutes on the ice (12 minutes, 57 seconds in Game 4) and gaining more confidence with every shift. You could tell by the way he handled the puck, especially in transition, that he's feeling more comfortable with his line mates Sharp and Vermette, and that spells trouble the rest of the way no matter who the Hawks draw.

One downside to Game 4 was the loss of Michal Rozsival, who severely twisted his ankle near the halfway point of the second period. Rozsival has had some ugly turnovers, especially in the Nashville series, but he managed to clamp down on defense. It helps when you're playing most of your shifts with the likes of Duncan Keith, but losing Rozsival only stretches an already-thin bench on D.

A healthy Trevor van Riemsdyk would answer the call, but he's at least another month away from recovering after a wrist surgery. It's likely David Rundblad will be the man to replace Rozsival, but look for Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Kimmo Timonen and Johnny Oduya to pick up even more minutes on the ice.

Now the Blackhawks await the winner of the Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames series, which has the Ducks up two games to one. The Hawks went 2-1 against both teams in the regular season and hope these two battle it out to a seventh game with bumps and bruises galore.

If the Ducks win it, they'll host home ice, whereas if the Flames were to pull it out, the Hawks would have home ice by way of the regular-season match-up (both teams are a three seed).

The Blackhawks are halfway home to another Cup, and as of right now, look every bit as good as when they won their last two. Some much-needed rest is ahead before continuing this run for a third Cup in six seasons.

 
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