ANAHEIM, Calif. — There’s a belief system that’s been instilled in the Blackhawks’ core for some time now.
It’s the belief they’ll find a way to get through different situations, whether they’re down in a game or, in the case of the Western Conference Final, down in a series entering Game 6.
Couple that belief system with the appropriate drive and talent, and you have a team heading to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in the past six seasons.
Jonathan Toews scored twice and Patrick Kane had three assists as the Blackhawks beat the Anaheim Ducks, 5-3, in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final on Saturday night. The Blackhawks will play Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay beginning on Wednesday night.
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Brandon Saad, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook also scored for the Blackhawks. Duncan Keith had two assists, and Corey Crawford stopped 35 of 38 shots for the victory.
For the Blackhawks, who are making this Stanley Cup trip for the third time since 2010, this series brought plenty of challenges. The Ducks were physical, determined to knock the Blackhawks off their game and through the boards, if need be. If that physicality took a toll on the Blackhawks, they weren’t showing it much. Two question marks remain: Bryan Bickell didn’t play past the early part of the second period, and Marcus Kruger — who took a big hit later — didn’t play over the final six minutes of regulation. Both remained on the bench, and coach Joel Quenneville said both “should be fine.”
As for the Blackhawks in general, they couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. Toews was the catalyst, scoring twice in the first period, his first giving the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead just 2:23 into the game. Toews’ power-play goal, which he scored about 10 minutes later, gave the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead and quieted the Honda Center.
“I don't know if one particular person made a difference. I think we played a good team game,” Seabrook said. “We came out of the gates hard. We wanted to play well to start the game. We knew how well they can start in this building, like (in) Game 5, so we wanted to come out and establish our game early.”
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It didn’t dissipate in the second period. An odd bounce off the boards went right to Kane, who found a wide-open Saad, who found a wide-open net, for a 3-0 lead.
“That’s one of them, for sure,” said Saad, when asked if that was one of the easier goals of his career. “Being able to play with (Kane), there (have) been multiple times when things like that happen, but what a great pass backdoor.”
Hossa’s goal put the Blackhawks up 4-0 before Ryan Kesler scored late in the second period and Corey Perry scored midway through the third to make it 4-2. But Seabrook, who has come through with some big goals of his own this postseason, got his sixth of the playoffs to give the Blackhawks a 5-2 lead.
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The Blackhawks got big performances throughout this series, from Keith’s ability to play nonstop (seemingly), to Toews scoring the last two goals in the Honda Center in Game 5 and the first two in Game 7 to Saad reminding everyone he’s going to get paid quite handsomely this offseason.
Now the young, fast, upstart Lightning wait. The Blackhawks will savor this for a day before focusing on Tampa Bay. The task isn’t complete yet for the Blackhawks, but once again, they’ve found a way to get where they want to be.
“We got ourselves to a seventh game, and we always say anything can happen,” Toews said. “Tonight we came out flying as a team and had contributions offensively across the board. I’d say it was our best game of the series, continuing with the pressure knowing they were going to respond as well.”