Despite being outshot and outplayed for much of Game 6 against Minnesota Tuesday night, the Chicago Blackhawks leaned on their veterans and a sense of familiar opportunism to outlast the home team and eliminate the Wild from the second round with a 2-1 overtime victory.
Give the Wild credit – they took it to the Blackhawks at different points throughout Game 6, particularly in the second period, when they fired 14 of their 35 shots on goalie Corey Crawford. But Crawford was marvelous between the pipes and held Chicago in the game long enough for Patrick Kane to swoop in at the 9:42 mark of overtime and lift a pretty backhand shot over sprawling Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to silence the raucous crowd and send Minnesota packing for the summer.
The Wild pushed the Hawks further than many thought they would and Minnesota fans have a lot to look forward to in coming years. But you don’t build a team that can beat the defending Cup champions in just a couple of seasons. Chicago’s list of contributors – including Kris Versteeg, who had their lone regulation goal, and defenseman Duncan Keith, who logged nearly 30 minutes of ice time – is far longer than the Wild’s was, but that’s to be expected with a younger squad like the one Minnesota has. The Hawks, on the other hand, are built for now, and have a slew of players who can hurt you after just a handful of mistakes. That’s how Kane scored in OT and that’s how they’ll continue to win games from this point on.
The Blackhawks now await the winner of the Ducks/Kings series, currently led by Anaheim with Game 6 scheduled for Wednesday in Los Angeles. But there’s now a one in four chance the NHL will have its first repeat Cup champion since the Detroit Red Wings did so in 1997-98. And it’s no fluke as to why. With the odds-on favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in Toews, Crawford functioning at a high level, and contributions from throughout the lineup, Chicago has every reason to think no team can match them when they’re at their best.