The Blackhawks cleared the last and most treacherous by far hurdle and are headed to their third finals in six seasons after topping the Ducks 5-3 in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals Saturday night at the Honda Center.
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Jonathan Toews, who earlier in the week called playing in a Game 7 “the ultimate challenge to see what you’ve got as a player,” accepted that challenge and the Hawks captain showed the hockey world exactly what he has with the game’s first two goals.
The Hawks will face the Lightning in the finals with Game 1 scheduled for Wednesday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa after out-playing a Ducks team that for the third consecutive season was eliminated from the playoffs in a Game 7 at home.
“There were no easy games,” Toews said. “There was nothing given to us. There were no moments when there were any lulls, when we felt Anaheim didn’t play (its) best hockey and we got away with it.
“We feel like we had to earn everything against that team. That was an incredible test.”
In addition to Toews’ two goals to open the scoring and put the Ducks on their heels from midway through the first period to the postgame handshake line, Brandon Saad, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook also scored. Patrick Kane had three assists, Brad Richards and Duncan Keith each added two helpers while Corey Crawford stood tall in goal to help the Hawks exorcise the demons of their stunning Game 7 overtime loss to the Kings in the conference finals a year ago.
“It’s a great step, especially … (when) we didn’t get the job done (last year),” Kane said. “Then we have another opportunity a year later. For that to come about, everyone just wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and not have the same feeling we had last year. We put ourselves in a position to start a new series. We’ll try to get ready for Tampa and enjoy this one for a little bit, too, because it’s a great accomplishment. But (its) not exactly what we want (for) the end all, be all.”
After an initial burst from the Ducks that accomplished nothing thanks mostly to Crawford (35 saves), Game 7 belonged to the Hawks as they raced to a 4-0 lead midway through the second period and withstood a pushback to put themselves four victories away from a third Stanley Cup since 2010.
“We know how rare and how much hard work goes into getting to this point,” Toews said. “And how many little things have to go right to get (here). It is a tremendous opportunity.”
The Hawks reach the finals playing perhaps their best hockey of the season and have put to rest any doubts that may have lingered after a roller-coaster regular season that resulted in a third-place finish in the Central Division.
“All year long, I’ve seen this team play up and down and at certain times people questioning (whether we were) playing the way the Hawks are used to,” Richards said. “But when something had to go, we’d talk about it (and) it seemed like every time … the team could really bear down and get back to playing the way we wanted to.
“That’s a special thing about this team and that’s veteran leadership (with) a been-there-done-that type of thing. This series was no different. There was no panic and we had an idea as it went (along that) this was probably going to go the distance and we were probably going to need to win one at the end on the road.”
For the Ducks, it was another disappointing end for a team that finished the regular season atop the Western Conference standings and rolled through the first two rounds.
“It’s miserable it’s an awful feeling,” Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said. “We felt like we had a special thing going and for it to be over is a pretty surreal feeling. It doesn’t feel like we deserve to be done yet, but that is how it goes.”
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