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Chicago Blackhawks ride their biggest stars into second round of NHL playoffs

Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) reacts after scoring the go-ahead goal on a power play in third period action during Game 6 of a Western Conference quarterfinal playoff hockey series against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday, April 27, 2014, at the United Center in Chicago. At left is Blackhawks center Andrew Shaw. In the foreground are St. Louis Blues defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk (22) and Roman Polak. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee) EDWARDSVILLE INTELLIGENCER OUT; THE ALTON TELEGRAPH OUT

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Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) reacts after scoring the go-ahead goal on a power play in third period action during Game 6 of a Western Conference quarterfinal playoff hockey series against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday, April 27, 2014, at the United Center in Chicago. At left is Blackhawks center Andrew Shaw. In the foreground are St. Louis Blues defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk (22) and Roman Polak. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee) EDWARDSVILLE INTELLIGENCER OUT; THE ALTON TELEGRAPH OUT

CHICAGO - For four straight games, the Blackhawks reminded the rest of the NHL why they are one tough out in the playoffs.

Jonathan Toews and the rest of Chicago's biggest stars just love this time of year.

Toews had three game-winning goals to help the defending Stanley Cup champions eliminate the Blues in the first round of the playoffs. The Blackhawks rallied after dropping the first two games of the series in St. Louis.

"I don't think you win a playoff series, let alone the Stanley Cup, without battling your way out of tough spots," Toews said after Sunday's clinching victory. "That team that works the way they do, they're nonstop. They don't give up. It's something you have to expect from them and something you have to deal with.

"It shows a lot of character in our room. It's a big reason why we've been successful."

Now Chicago gets to rest for a couple of days before it begins preparing for the second round on Wednesday. Next up is Minnesota or Colorado. The Wild beat the Avalanche 5-2 on Monday night, forcing a Game 7 on Wednesday in Colorado.

Toews also had four assists in the first-round series, but he got plenty of help.

Patrick Kane had two goals and an assist in Chicago's 4-3 victory in Game 4, including the winning score in overtime. He has three goals and three assists in the playoffs after winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as post-season MVP a year ago.

The list goes on and on. Duncan Keith had a goal and three assists in Chicago's clinching victory in Game 6. Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa also had a couple of big plays in the series.

"It feels good. It was a tough series," said Keith, a finalist for the Norris Trophy awarded to the NHL's top defenceman. "Every game was close. Even tonight, people were watching and you guys could tell, it was a close game for 50 minutes and then we were able to separate some distance there. It felt good to get that momentum and I think we did a good job just holding onto it."

The four-game surge by the Blackhawks left St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock searching for what went wrong for the Blues, who were among the best teams in the league for most of the season.

"I really haven't done any dissecting yet, to be honest with you. Every time someone seemed to be scoring a goal, it had a 19 or and 88 or and 81 or a 10 in his back," Hitchcock said, rattling off the numbers for Toews, Kane, Hossa and Sharp. "That's all I remember."

Keith and Sharp were steady performers all season long, but Toews, Hossa and Kane all missed time with injuries. There was some question about how Toews and Kane would perform after they missed the last part of the regular season.

So far, so good. In fact, the rest provided by the injuries might prove invaluable for the star forwards as Chicago tries to win its third title in five seasons.

"Getting out of the first round doesn't mean you've done anything yet," said Toews, who turns 26 on Tuesday. "That was a heck of a battle. I think we can enjoy this win for the next couple days, feel really good about it and let our bodies heal. But we're not satisfied and we're going to work for more."

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