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.
“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.”