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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.”

2019 Blackhawks development camp: Day 3 thoughts and takeaways

2019 Blackhawks development camp: Day 3 thoughts and takeaways

GM Stan Bowman and head coach Jeremy Colliton met with the media before Wednesday's on-ice session to discuss a variety of prospect-driven topics.

Here are some of the highlights from their availability, in addition to thoughts and takeaways from Day 3 of Blackhawks development camp at Fifth Third Arena:

1. What the Blackhawks are looking for this week

It's easy to get caught up in prospect camp and put stock into on-ice performances, but that's not what the Blackhawks are doing this week. In fact, the on-ice portion is just a fraction of what these players have on the agenda.

"The big thing for us is to watch these kids, how much they can absorb," Bowman said. "We're throwing a lot of information. These are long days for them to have. Seminars in the morning then they come over and do on-ice work, then they do off-ice work and at the beginning of the week we have a cooking demo for them to learn how to prepare food. So at the end of the day it's a full day for them."

Colliton also brought up a valid point about prospects being at different stages in their summer training. Some players are skating for the first time since their seasons ended and are shaking off some rust. Some have already been training for months. Some players had long years because of deep postseason runs. So yeah, this week is not about evaluation.

"We gotta be careful," Colliton said. "This is a snapshot. At training camp and Traverse City it’ll be a much easier job to evaluate how close anyone is."

2. Early impressions of Kirby Dach

The Blackhawks did extensive research on Dach before drafting him No. 3 overall. On the ice, off the ice, analytics, you name it. But they're finally able to spend some time with him under their own roof and see his habits, how he carries himself, etc. and the early impressions are strong from the coaching staff and management.

"It's hard not to notice his skill level," Bowman said. "He's a big guy but he's got really soft hands, he's got that long reach and he's got a quick stick. He's pretty tricky with the puck. He's got the ability to hold it out so that guys can't poke it away and if they try to get it he can pull it through. He's got quick hands. And I think that's what you notice. He skates well for a big guy.

"These are all things that we liked about him when we drafted him but when you get him here and put him up against guys that are a couple years older, he's able to do some special things with the puck. He's got all the excitement to be on the ice, he's a competitive kid, he's focused, but he's enjoying himself and he's got a combination of attributes that we wish everybody had."

Said Colliton: "It’s tough not to notice him out there. Big, big kid who skates really well, got a lot of skill, makes a lot of things happen out there and seems to have a great work ethic and be a great kid. ... He’s been impressive, for sure."

3. Adam Boqvist turning pro?

When we talked to him on Monday, Boqvist made it known that he wanted to turn pro as quickly as possible and felt ready for it after one season in the OHL with the London Knights. And it seems like the management group is ready for that to happen, also.

"We're probably leaning towards that," Bowman said. "I don't know that we've made any declarations that's what he's going to do. In talking to Adam I think he wants to take that next step. It's probably looking like that, but nothing's been determined for sure."

4. Blackhawks accepting of Ian Mitchell's decision

After his sophomore season at Denver, Mitchell had a decision to make: turn pro or return to college for another year? 

The Blackhawks felt like he was ready to take the next step. Perhaps Mitchell felt so too, but returning to school for one more season, in his eyes, allows him to hone his craft even more and become a better all-around, consistent player before making the jump. That's why he made the decision to go back for one more season, and the Blackhawks are accepting of that.

"You got to give him credit," Bowman said. "He feels like there's unfinished business and I think he's committed to the team and committed to his teammates. He wants to lead that team and he wants to be, in his words, a difference-maker every night. I thought he had a great season last year and selfishly we think he's ready to be a pro. On the other side of it, you got to be where you are. So if he feels the right place for him is Denver then you want to be committed to that and you want him to lead that team and you want him to continue to improve.

"I think what we're looking for him to do is build on that and become a dominant player like he wants to be. Yeah, we would love to have him as a pro right now but I think he's going to be a pro pretty soon. So let him focus on his path. He has to believe in what he's doing and it's not for us to try to talk him in and out of things. Wherever he is, we're going to support him. But he's ready to be a pro right now. With a year in college as a dominant player he'll be even more ready to be a pro."

5. Looking for the next Collin Delia?

The Blackhawks brought six goalies to development camp. Two of them are draft picks — Dominic Basse and Alexis Gravel. The other four are here on invites: Devin Cooley, Stefanos Lekkas, Mareks Mitens and Zackarias Skog. They don't have to look far to see that an impressive showing could turn into a contract.

This is exactly how Delia caught the attention of the Blackhawks.

"We did this a couple years ago with Collin Delia and now look where Collin is," Bowman said. "I think that's the message to these players is you're here for a reason because we think you've got skill and potential as a goalie, and we want to see how you perform this week, how do you take feedback, what's your work ethic like and then we're going to follow them.

"It's not out of the realm that a couple years from now these guys could become Blackhawks. They're not all going to fall into that category but if they show well and they impress us, I think Collin came back two years in a row and then we signed him so these guys are here to try to impress us and show us that they could become Blackhawks."

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Jeremy Colliton on Blackhawks offseason additions and how he plans to handle Crawford-Lehner workload

Jeremy Colliton on Blackhawks offseason additions and how he plans to handle Crawford-Lehner workload

It's mid-July and the Blackhawks' roster looks very different from when it ended the 2018-19 season. GM Stan Bowman has added an influx of new faces this summer, whether that's been in the form of trades or free-agent signings.

Now it's up to Jeremy Colliton and his coaching staff to decide how they want to map out the lineup. They might have an idea of how they want to utilize specific players, but the real competition starts in training camp and that's exactly what the organization wants.

"Yeah, we’ve done a lot," Colliton said before Wednesday's on-ice session at development camp. "We’ve really increased the depth in our group, everywhere. In goal, on defense, up front, we have competition throughout the roster for roster spots, for roles. I think we have more versatility to our team, we have defenders who can play either side, we have guys who want to kill penalties and defend and take that role, we have forwards who can play different positions, kill penalties, play against good players. So we feel that’s what we were missing to our team."

"We’ve added a little bit of physicality and an edge, which we need to have that dimension. We have to win games in different ways, and I think if you compare the roster now to the one we ended with or the one we had when I first came in November, I think we can win in different ways and we’re prepared to have an excellent season, hopefully."

One of the main storylines to follow during the 2019-20 season will be how the goaltending workload is divided between Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner. You have a two-time Stanley Cup winner and Vezina Trophy finalist to share the starts with, and Colliton expects it to be a healthy battle among the two veteran netminders.

"There's going to be competition, certainly," Colliton said. "But I think you look at the teams that have had success, there has been a share — some sort of split. It's not 60, 70 games one guy's taking. Those games that maybe traditionally the backup is playing, we need to win those too. So now whoever is in the net, we're going to get an extremely high level of performance. And if we happen to be unlucky with injuries, we have some protection there too."

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