Blackhawks take series in thrilling Game 7 overtime
And then there were eight.
The Chicago Blackhawks had rallied from a 1-3 series deficit to force game seven. And what a game seven it was, one to send off the Red Wings to the Eastern Conference with a memorable farewell.
At the end of the day, this series was a wake-up call for the Blackhawks. The Minnesota Wild had never pushed the Hawks up against the ropes. A couple of games with less-than-stellar effort, and the Presidents' Trophy winners were suddenly at risk of being knocked out in the second round.
Somewhere between game four and seven, the Blackhawks began waking up, finding their game again. They won game five, then six, and then it all came down to Wednesday night at the United Center.
The game started fairly even: a fast pace and the two teams trading a nearly even among of shots, though neither scored in the first.
Just over a minute into the second, Patrick Sharp put the Blackhawks on the board. The second line of Sharp-Marian Hossa-Michal Handzus is finding some decent chemistry after Patrick Kane was put back on the first line with Jonathan Toews.
Detroit returned the favor in the third, breaking the shut out bid just 26 seconds into the period with a Henrik Zetterberg goal.
With less than two minutes left on the clock, it looked like Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson had given them the go-ahead goal, but it was immediately whistled dead. The crowd, loud with excitement, had missed the whistle that referee Sephen Walkom had blown.
Behind the play, Red Wing Kyle Quincey had engaged Brandon Saad. Once Saad fought back, Walkom blew the whistle, negating Hjalmarsson's goal effort. Twin minors of roughing were given to Quincey and Saad, and despite some last good effort by Detroit, the game went to overtime.
It took 3:35 minutes of overtime before Brent Seabrook blasted in the game-winning goal.
Detroit's season was over; Chicago was advancing to the third round to face the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final.
Chicago's play has been getting better as the post-season has rolled along. They won versus the Wild with less effort than they needed to feel the full pressure of the playoffs. Perhaps that is why they didn't fully show up in the second round until the fifth game.
But the Red Wings weren't going to roll over so easily. Detroit had beaten the second-seeded Anaheim in seven games. Maybe if their players had been a little healthier, they might have finished off Chicago. They did everything they could to slow the Blackhawks down, but at the end of the series, a triumphant - and relieved - Chicago team walked away with the series.
The door on the rivalry with the Red Wings hasn't fully shut with Detroit's move to the Eastern conference. They'll still see each other twice a year, and there's no doubt that a Blackhawks-Red Wings Final would be a welcome treat. The two teams have been well-matched for several years now, and even with the fan/team rivalry aside, it's always exciting hockey when they meet up.
Perhaps it is a passing of the torch. Detroit has been the big name in the Central for twenty-one seasons; the Blackhawks will be the top team in the new, as-yet unnamed midwest division.
Jimmy Howard deserves accolades for his outstanding performance in the past two seasons. Without his stellar play, the Red Wings would not have gotten this far. Expect him to be one of the top Team U.S.A. goalies in Sochi along with the Blackhawks next opponent, LA's Jonathan Quick.
Corey Crawford deserves stick taps as well. Like his Detroit counterpart, he held Chicago in games and gave them a chance to win every night in the first two series. He finishes the first two series with a .938 sv% and 1.70 GAA, which is an improvement over his .926 sv% and 1.94 GAA in the regular season.
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The Blackhawks begin their series against the Los Angeles on Saturday, June 1, at 4 p.m. CDT. Tune in on NBCSN in the U.S., or TSN and RDS in Canada; or listen in via WGN 720 and 97.9 FM radio.