Blackhawks Stars Hitting Their Stanley Cup Stride as Chicago Eliminates Wild

Adrian DaterNHL National ColumnistMay 14, 2014

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It was not a just end for the Minnesota Wild, but it was a just ending for Matt Cooke, whose lazy backcheck against his man, Patrick Kane, was karmic payback from someone Up There.

Bad guys shouldn't be rewarded in the end, and Cooke wasn't in a Game 6 2-1 loss.

The final snapshot of his and the Wild's season will forever be of him reaching in futility as Kane roofed a backhander past Ilya Bryzgalov in overtime to put his Blackhawks team into the Western Conference Final for the fourth time in the last six seasons.

It was the 11th playoff game-winning goal in Kane's still-young career. It came one game after the 25-year-old's superhero counterpart, Jonathan Toews, scored the winner in the rubber game of the series. In short, Chicago is advancing because its two biggest stars rose, again, to the occasion while Minnesota's did not.

Otherwise, Minnesota was probably the better team as this series went along, and the Wild certainly were Tuesday. If not for Corey Crawford, this thing would have gone back to the United Center for a Game 7.

Those who have hoped for a bitter end for the cowardly Cooke since his dirty, seven-game-suspension-worthy knee on Colorado's Tyson Barrie in Round 1 were filled with Schadenfreude when Kane beat him to a loose puck after a crazy bounce off the back glass and lifted the winner over Bryzgalov's glove.

The best part of the playoffs is we don't have to watch Matt Cooke anymore. And the worst part is we don't get to watch the Wild anymore. Because they were a very entertaining team to watch otherwise in this postseason.

Minnesota dominated much of the final two games, more so in Game 6. It should have been over several times before it went to OT. But, again, the Blackhawks' top forwards stepped up in the clutch and Minny's did not. Simple as that.

While Kane and Toews scored huge goals, Minnesota's $98 million man, Zach Parise, had zero points in the final two games. He had just two shots on net in Game 6. Mikko Koivu, Minnesota's top center, had one point (an assist) in the final five games of the series. 

Chicago really looked in trouble after the first period of Game 5. There were plenty of boos, even, when they left the ice after being down 1-0. That Cup hangover feeling was starting to creep its way into the situation, it seemed. But Toews, then Kane, just wouldn't let it continue.

Jeremy Roenick of NBC correctly predicted Kane would be the one to score for Chicago in OT. It was his brand of hustle that did it.

Kane could have let up some after Chicago's dump-in appeared would rim around the back glass to the other side. But great players don't let up. He kept his stride well ahead of the loafing Cooke and benefited from the crazy bounce off a metal divider between the panes of glass. 

"As soon as it bounced, it came right to me. I tried to make a little fake and put it to my backhand," Kane told NBC after the game. "It was a battle. You've got to give Minnesota a lot of credit. We were probably fortunate to come away with the win tonight."

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

Crawford was sensational in the game. He didn't look too good at all in Game 4 when Minnesota evened it up, but he came through as much or more than Kane and Toews did in the last two. 

Now it's on to another conference final for the Blackhawks, with either a rematch of last year's with Los Angeles or a date with the Ducks.

"It's important to get some rest," Kane told NBC. "We don't know when the next series will start or who we'll play, but it's going to be a tough matchup whoever we're against. L.A. gave us a great test last year, and Anaheim has been one of the best teams all year."

Let's give some credit to Joel Quenneville for this series win too.

He deservedly received criticism for his chaotic line-juggling in Game 4, but he had more of a regular lineup the rest of the way. Still, there were times, especially in Game 6, when Mike Yeo seemed the better coach. After a strong Chicago start in this one, Yeo adjusted his forecheck and neutral-zone defensive scheme and really had the defending champions on their heels the rest of the night. 

But Crawford just wouldn't give in, and once the game went to OT, you had that feeling this would go to Chicago. It didn't sit well over in the Minnesota side, though. The bad bounce off the back partition had the Wild bemoaning the fates.

The Wild got a similarly fortunate bounce off a back-glass partition for a Charlie Coyle goal that helped win a game in the first round against Colorado. So, sometimes you have puck luck and sometimes you don't.

The Blackhawks keep proving that hard work overcomes any bad breaks. They didn't play their best—and the Wild made it be that way—but they found a way. They worked just a little harder in the end and are moving on.

And Minnesota is, well, Cooked.