ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Corey Crawford and the Chicago Blackhawks controlled this second-round series from start to finish, except for a frenzied attempt by the Minnesota Wild to send Game 4 into overtime.
They still finished the sweep.
Crawford made 34 saves, Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, and the Blackhawks advanced to the Western Conference finals for the fifth time in seven years with a 4-3 victory over the Wild on Thursday night.
“It may have looked a little hectic, but I think our team remained calm,” left wing Patrick Sharp said, “and we did what we had to do.”
The Wild never led in the series, but they had a big rally after falling behind 4-1 on Marian Hossa’s short-handed, empty-net goal with 3:07 left. Devan Dubnyk, who made 21 saves to cap a remarkable run for the Wild since arriving in a season-saving mid-January trade, was pulled for most of the last four minutes.
Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter scored with 2:18 and 1:27 remaining to give the Wild one last chance, but the final few whacks were either wide or turned aside by Crawford, who stopped 124 of 131 shots in the four games for a robust .947 save percentage. The Blackhawks improved to 30-0, including 5-0 in this postseason, when leading after two periods.
“They want to be successful. They want to find ways to win, and in the end they want to be champions,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said, praising the resolve of his players over that final frantic sequence.
Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw also scored for the Blackhawks, who were down to five defensemen after a serious injury to veteran Michal Roszival. Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell had two assists apiece, and Chicago eliminated Minnesota from the playoffs for the third straight year, winning 12 of the 15 games.
Dubnyk said he felt “sick” about it.
“To be with the group that we have, to finish it that way, it just doesn’t feel right,” he said.
The Blackhawks have scored 12 times in the first period in 10 games this postseason. They’re 5-1 when scoring first.
“We don’t think about being special,” Kane said. “If we have a good game the game before, we want to be even better. If we have a bad game, we want to wipe the slate clean and not feel sorry for ourselves, come back, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The Blackhawks showed their deft finishing touch throughout the series, making so many of their prime opportunities count. The Wild simply didn’t, though they couldn’t help but shake their heads about some of the bad bounces against them.
Seabrook gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead with his shot off Wild defenseman Marco Scandella’s shin and into the upper corner of the net.
Toews took the game’s first penalty, hooking early in the second period, and the Wild just missed several chances to score on the power play. Defenseman Matt Dumba and center Mikael Granlund took the place of the struggling Pominville and Thomas Vanek on the first unit.
Soon after Toews left the box, he picked up the puck and threaded a perfect pass to a streaking Marcus Kruger, who drew a hooking call on Nino Niederreiter. The Blackhawks scored on their power play when Shaw knocked a loose puck between Dubnyk’s pads.
“We had a great run, and obviously that’s not the way we wanted it to end,” said Vanek, who was dropped down to the third line. “They were tight games, and their scorers scored when they needed to, timely goals. I didn’t.”
Vanek had a breakaway when Rozsival lost his balance and fell backward while badly injuring his left leg, but Crawford brushed Vanek’s shot aside with his blocker. Rozsival was helped off the ice, his left leg hanging limp without any weight on it.
Erik Haula scored in the second period to pull the Wild within 2-1, his speed and energy on the fourth line providing a bright spot for the Wild. That was the first goal by a Wild forward in a stretch of 177 minutes and 11 seconds since the middle of the second period of Game 1. Dumba scored in Game 2, the only other goal during that stretch as Crawford gained more and more confidence by the shot.
“You feel it’s a waste of a year, because we had a chance and we were playing some good hockey coming into the postseason and we proved it in the first round,” Pominville said, reflecting on the six-game victory over Central Division champion St. Louis. “But it wasn’t good enough in the second.”
NOTES: This was the first sweep by the Blackhawks since the Western Conference finals in 2010 against San Jose. … Haula had four goals and three assists for the Wild in 13 playoff games last year. This was his first score since Feb. 28.
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