If it felt like there was more familiarity than usual in the handshake line after the Blackhawks’ sweep of the Wild, maybe that’s no coincidence: it’s the third consecutive season Minnesota has been bounced by Chicago. Not enough familiarity to breed contempt, though, perhaps because the Wild have only won three games total in those three series.
The Blackhawks are back in the Western Conference Finals for the fifth time in the last seven years; such an improbable accomplishment in the post-lockout era. But you look at the list players who have been here that whole time—Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp, and Niklas Hjalmarsson—and it becomes less surprising. These particular Blackhawks take their cues from the core, and appear immaculate on both ends of the ice, ruthlessly smothering a legitimately very good Wild team that spent the season patching up its flaws. But Chicago may not have flaws.
It was a wild ending to a series that was tighter than the sweep would suggest, and credit to Minnesota for never once rolling over. Not even when, down two with four minutes left, they pulled Devan Dubnyk and Marian Hossa found the empty net:
The deflation in the stands was palpable, and probably indicative of the mood on the Wild bench throughout this series—what do we have to do to beat these guys?—but Minnesota struck back with two goals in 51 seconds.
If I’m a Wild fan, that furious comeback was possibly more frustrating than encouraging: after a series where the Blackhawks got most of the bounces, the pucks finally started making it through only after it was too late. But Chicago held firm over the final 87 seconds, and is halfway to a championship.
I’ve noticed an odd reaction in the comments on previous stories these 2015 Blackhawks, from fans of both the Wild and third-party teams. There’s not a lot of the hatred or resentment or bitterness (though fans in St. Louis and Detroit should feel free to disagree) that usually follows teams that have been so successful for so many years, but something closer to a grudging admiration. It’s almost as if these Hawks are so good, so consistently dominant, and so businesslike about it, they’ve calmly bludgeoned respect into everyone. And now they enter the final four, no matter who that ends up being, as favorites to take home their third Cup in six years.