By Chris Emma–
ST. PAUL, Minn. (CBS) — Moments after the final horn at Xcel Energy Center and just before the traditional postgame handshakes, the Blackhawks reacted like a team that has been there before.
For the fifth time in seven years, the Blackhawks are on to the Western Conference Final. After a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, Chicago stands just eight wins away from a third summer with the Stanley Cup in six seasons.
Inside the visitors’ locker room, there was no raucous celebration. Of course, the Blackhawks have higher aspirations, but their reaction — or lack thereof — was simply because this kind of success is nothing new.
“We appreciate getting back to the conference finals, because it’s quite an accomplishment,” said forward Patrick Sharp, who has been a part of Chicago’s organization since 2006.
Added goaltender Corey Crawford: “Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup.”
Once again, Chicago has enjoyed another special season to continue this remarkable run.
Minnesota coins itself as the “State of Hockey,” though the Wild are a relatively new franchise, established in 1997. The Blackhawks are a storied Original Six franchise having their greatest string of success ever. Chicago had too many elite players — Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, etc. — for Minnesota to match.
For all the pumped-in excitement in Xcel Energy Center, the Blackhawks were simply too much. Minnesota’s season ended for a third straight year against Chicago, which once again proved its place among the class of hockey.
The Wild had the red-hot goaltender in Devan Dubnyk, a disciplined style of defensive hockey and two games at home to even this best-of-seven series. The third time was supposed to be the charm. Instead, Chicago swept its division foe and never trailed once during the four wins.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling,” Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said. “Losing sucks.”
Losing isn’t something the Blackhawks are used to in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They’ve fallen just once in their last nine series and appear poised to win another championship this season.
With Toews leading the charge, Kane playing perhaps his best hockey ever, Keith steadying the defensive effort and Crawford showing his regular-season form, who’s to say the Blackhawks won’t win the Cup?
Either the Anaheim Ducks or Calgary Flames (the Ducks lead the series 2-1 entering Friday night) will meet Chicago in the conference final. In the meantime, the Blackhawks have time to rest after a series that in reality was closer than the 4-0 margin would indicate.
In the aftermath of another businesslike series win, the Blackhawks took time to appreciate what they accomplished. Just because they’ve been here before doesn’t mean it can’t be cherished.
“It’s special,” Kane said. “A special group.”
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.