By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) — Sitting in his locker stall surrounded by a herd of reporters, with career playoff points Nos. 100 and 101 and a 4-1 win over the Wild in Game 2 under his belt, Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane was asked to summarize his individual accomplishment.
Naturally, “Showtime” kept proper perspective. It took a team effort for Kane to hoist the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013, and these Blackhawks are built for another lift in 2015.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of this organization, with this team, great players, great leaders,” Kane said. “It’s been fun. I hope this continues the rest of my career — I’ve enjoyed it.”
While Kane is one of the NHL’s brightest stars, the type of talent who alters the course of a franchise — Chicago was blessed to draft Kane No. 1 overall in 2007 — he wouldn’t be a winner without Jonathan Toews, who wouldn’t be the game’s greatest leader without Kane, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and so on.
The Blackhawks wouldn’t be 10 wins away from their third title in five years without such a special group.
“That’s how you have success as a team, when your best players lead the charge,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
With the win Sunday at the United Center, the Blackhawks take a 2-0 series lead over the Wild to the Twin Cities. Quite frankly, the better team is imposing its will.
Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said the Wild’s problem is “a between-the-ears thing.” He stated that his team will win this series. Want to bet, Coach?
In this rematch of a rematch, the Blackhawks are two games from bouncing the Wild for a third straight Stanley Cup Playoff. These Wild boast a better core with Ryan Suter (-3), Mikko Koivu (-2) and Zach Parise (-1), and they had the previously red-hot Devan Dubnyk in net, yet Chelsea Dagger keeps playing inside United Center.
What happened to the Wild?
“I don’t know what team played that game, but it wasn’t us tonight,” Yeo said.
It seems Chicago has rattled Minnesota’s coach.
Facing a formidable foe, Chicago has been careful with puck possession, then opportunistic to create chances. It has maintained discipline on defense that makes Corey Crawford look like his regular-season self.
If there’s ever a Jekyll and Hyde, it’s not the Wild, as Yeo suggested. It’s Crawford, who went from goat to great in the span of a week and a half. But this is simply the byproduct of better overall play from the Blackhawks.
“It was our best game all the way around,” Quenneville said.
Watch out, because the Blackhawks are playing tremendous hockey. After a regular season of inconsistent play, losing streaks, closed-door meetings and frustration aplenty, Chicago’s championship core is clicking again in a playoff push.
In sports, there’s something to be said for the best players being great come the postseason. That comes around like clockwork in Chicago.
But here’s the catch. The Blackhawks just don’t let themselves get satisfied. They are constantly striving for more.
“I don’t think we’re satisfied with where we’re at,” Kane said. “I don’t think we’ve played as well as we can.”
Added Keith: “I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
Chicago was taken on a wild ride throughout the regular season. At times, the Blackhawks looked dominant, then they would often play poorly. Fans often wondered what the heck Quenneville was doing, Crawford to be benched and the United Center to be burnt to the ground.
None of it mattered. The 82-game grind that makes up a regular season is rendered meaningless come the grueling push for the Stanley Cup.
When the prize is in sight — and it’s now 10 wins away — the Blackhawks are at their best but still striving for better.
Just ask a tremendous talent like Patrick Kane, who knows what makes these Blackhawks so special.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.