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Blackhawks sweep Wild, move on to Western Conference Final

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Blackhawks sweep Wild, move on to Western Conference Final

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Coach Joel Quenneville could smile about it at the post-game press conference, the fact that Marian Hossa’s 4-on-6, empty-net goal, which gave the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead at the time, ended up being a game-winner.

“Yeah, it turns out Hoss scored a big goal,” Quenneville said with a grin. “Very timely.”

It wasn’t the ending the Blackhawks drew up, scrambling as a frenzied, desperate Minnesota Wild scored twice in the final two-plus minutes of regulation. But it was ultimately just a bit of drama in an otherwise impressive four-game sweep.

Hossa’s first goal of this postseason was the game winner, and Corey Crawford stopped 34 of 37 shots as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 4-3 in Game 4 of their second-round series on Thursday night. The Blackhawks eliminated the Wild in impressive fashion and now will wait and see what team they play in the Western Conference Finals. It’s the fifth time in the last seven seasons the Blackhawks advanced to that round.

Patrick Kane scored his fifth goal of this series in the third period to give the Blackhawks a 3-1 lead at the time. Kane, whose goal total was just two less than the Wild as a team (seven), now has 104 points in 103 career postseason games. Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw (power play) also scored for the Blackhawks.

The sweeping victory, however, came with a loss. Michal Rozsival fell awkwardly, twisting his left foot/ankle, while defending Tomas Vanek in the second period. Rozsival was down for several moments and had to be helped to the locker room. He was putting no weight on his left leg as he left the ice.

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“Tough loss. Doesn’t look good,” said Quenneville, who will obviously have to look at his defensive possibilities before the Western Conference Finals begin.

Quenneville will have time to figure that out, however, thanks to the Blackhawks’ second playoff sweep since 2010 (the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals that year). Still, for a game that looked like it was finished when Hossa’s goal made it 4-1 with 3:07 remaining in regulation, the ending was harrowing. Jason Pominville scored a power-play goal with 2:18 remaining in regulation and then Nino Niederreiter scored with 1:27 left to cut Chicago’s lead to 4-3. The Blackhawks, who went on another penalty kill with 14.9 seconds remaining, held off the Wild’s final desperate chances.

“Obviously not a textbook finish but still found a way,” said Crawford. “We made it hard on ourselves [late] but other than that we played a great hockey game. We were solid defensively. We knew they’d give everything they could to get back in the series. It’s an exciting finish, to say the least.”

And that finish has the Blackhawks in very familiar territory with the conference finals. It also had some of the veteran Blackhawks, who have been here and done this before, nevertheless celebrating like it’s a new feeling.

“It was pretty pumped up. It was little more reserved than years past, but guys felt pretty good about it,” said Patrick Sharp of the Blackhawks’ room. “We appreciate how hard it is to win a playoff series, to beat a team like Minnesota. We’re proud of the accomplishment to get out of the division. We think it’s a pretty tough division to play in. [We have a] ton of enthusiasm going forward. We can’t wait to get back in the conference finals and try to win another series.”

The Blackhawks ended their regular season with a four-game losing streak, leading some to wonder how the postseason would go. It’s been all right thus far. They weathered some defensive and goaltending issues in thefirst round and got better in those areas, as well as the penalty kill, in the second round.

“I think it just shows that we like playing at this time of year. It’s the best time of year to play,” Kane said. “When you think of the playoffs, going through the whole process of going round-by-round and [getting] a new matchup with a different team every time, it’s fun for us and we get excited. We have great fans at our backs. The weather gets a little nicer. The city of Chicago starts buzzing a little bit. It is just a fun city to play in.”

It’s a true sign of what this franchise has been able to do in recent years, through roster changes and mini rebuilds. The Blackhawks had an interesting final few minutes to an otherwise stellar four-game round and are conference final-bound again.

“It’s a great achievement by a group of guys,” Quenneville said. “For a lot of those guys who have been here for all seven years, there have been ups and downs but for the most part, when you begin in the playoffs, we believe we have a chance to win. The guys, game in and game out, they show that by how they compete.”

Why the Stanley Cup was late to Blackhawks' 2015 Game 6 win over Lightning

Why the Stanley Cup was late to Blackhawks' 2015 Game 6 win over Lightning

Out of tradition and superstition, the Stanley Cup is never in the building until after puck drop during a Stanley Cup Final game in which it could be won, unless it's a Game 7 when both teams have a shot.

On June 15 in 2015, when the Blackhawks won their sixth Stanley Cup in franchise history, old Stanley was a little late to his own party at the United Center.

As the Keeper of the Cup Philip Pritchard tells host Pat Boyle on the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, fans were already celebrating the Hawks Cup-clinching win over the Lightning outside the UC as the trophy was pulling in.

Broadcasters 'Doc' Emrick and Eddie Olczyk were filling time waiting for the Cup to arrive, which was still absent during the handshake line.

According to Pritchard, the Cup left the hotel around puck drop and it was the stormy weather that made the Keeper and the best trophy in sports tardy for the celebration.

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"People that weren't (at the game yet) were in traffic and just leaving their cars and walking and the roads were flooded, the highways were flooded, the bypass was like a lake. And as we were coming out towards the arena, we realized then that we were going to need some help, not just Mother Nature help, but we're going to need security help with it as well," Pritchard said.

"As we pulled into the arena — obviously the game had finished and the Blackhawks won — the home team's going nuts, the hometown fans are going crazy. So we presented (the Conn Smythe) to Duncan Keith and then we brought the Stanley Cup out and I remember on the ice talking to Jonathan Toews and he said, 'That was so cool that it took so long and the fans were loving it.' And I was telling him what went on and he goes, 'Really? I just thought it was part of the effect.'"

Report: NHL 2020 training camp, hub city report, playoff start dates emerge

Report: NHL 2020 training camp, hub city report, playoff start dates emerge

Friday, TSN's Bob McKenzie reported some key dates being targeted for the NHL's Return To Play plan, including the start of the 24-team playoff format.

McKenzie said the new slated date for team training camps (Phase 3) is July 13. Teams would report to the hub cities (reportedly Edmonton and Toronto) on July 26 with games and Phase 4 beginning on August 1. 

Bob also shed some light on when Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery and the conclusion of the playoffs may pan out.

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"The second phase of the NHL draft lottery will occur immediately following the best-of-five, play-in qualifying series, so around Aug. 10-12 if all were to go well. Stanley Cup final would wrap up in early October. NHL draft would happen soon after that," he tweeted Friday.

Related: Report: Edmonton expected to host Stanley Cup Final

In Phase 1, the No. 1 overall pick for the 2020 NHL Draft went to a placeholder team. Each of the eight teams that lose in the qualifying round of the postseason format will have a 12.5 percent chance of getting the top pick in Phase 2. 

Related: What if Blackhawks get No. 1 pick and select Alexis LaFreniere?