Score Strip

Blackhawks reach West finals on OT winner

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- Brent Seabrook couldn't have picked a better time for his first goal of the playoffs.

The Chicago defenseman scored 3 minutes, 35 seconds into overtime, and the Blackhawks defeated the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals Wednesday at the United Center.

"I don't think I've scored a bigger goal than that," Seabrook said of his first career playoff game-winning goal. "With the Game 7 mentality, in overtime, against Detroit, it was pretty special."

For the first time in franchise history, Chicago came back from a 3-1 playoff series deficit to win the final three games.

"We asked ourselves how bad we wanted it, and you got your answer right there," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "That's a heck of a way to pull out four wins in seven games.

"I think if not everyone was believing, they are now."

Added Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, "Give Detroit credit, it was a tough series, a great series. We were on the ropes for a long time in that series, so we're very excited about where we're at today."

The Blackhawks advance to the conference finals to face the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. The first two games of the series will be in Chicago on Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening.

"We're only halfway to where we want to go, but one series like this is huge for our confidence and it's huge for everyone in this room to believe in what we can do," Toews said.

The game marked the final intra-conference meeting between two of the NHL's original six teams. Detroit moves to the Eastern Conference next season.

"I'm proud of the guys, we know we battled," Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard said. "We're an extremely resilient team. We don't go away quietly. As you noticed tonight, we just kept going, kept going. It's just unfortunate the way it ended."

Added dejected Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, "We said we're going to go for it, and then it just ends like that and the whole season just ends like that. It feels kind of surreal and empty right now."

Fans from both teams came in hoping for a classic Game 7 battle, and they got it, with neither team giving an inch.

The last time the Blackhawks defeated the Red Wings in postseason play was a four-game sweep in 1992. The Hawks now lead the Wings 9-7 in all-time playoff series and are 43-38 in 81 postseason games.

"I thought they battled hard just like they have all year long," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "Those dreams you have as a kid in Game 7, you always score and the other team doesn't score.

"We won three in a row and then they won three in a row, so we should've won the first one and then we could've won four. We needed to win one more."

Chicago came out with its big guns, Toews and Patrick Kane, in the overtime period, seemingly ready to throw everything the team had to try to put the game away quickly.

When that failed, Quenneville went to the bench, and Seabrook came through in almost storybook fashion in what has been a stellar year. The Blackhawks finished the regular season with the NHL's best record.

After a scoreless first period, Chicago broke through at 1:08 of the second when Patrick Sharp pushed the puck past Howard.

It was Sharp's team-leading seventh goal of the playoffs, and it came from a difficult angle. Sharp took a pass from Marian Hossa to the left of Howard at the red line and somehow chipped it in.

The Red Wings tied it 26 seconds into the third period when captain Henrik Zetterberg scored his fourth goal of the playoffs.

"They came flying out of the gate and made a nice play to get their goal," Chicago goalie Corey Crawford said. "It was just a matter of cool it down, not lose our cool or lose our heads, stick with it and keep playing our game."

Crawford, who turned back 26 of 27 Detroit shots, is 8-4 through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

"Obviously, it's another step for us to move on to our ultimate goal," Crawford said. "We just want this one to sink in and enjoy it."

Chicago appeared to have broken the tie with 1:47 left in the third period when Niklas Hjalmarsson put the puck in the net, but the goal was denied because officials whistled penalties against Detroit's Kyle Quincey and Chicago's Brandon Saad, both for roughing.

The controversial call seemed to stun both teams. Both players were tangling with each other in front of Chicago's bench and were nowhere near the play that resulted in the goal. In most instances, the goal would have superseded the penalties, but inexplicably not this time.

But in a way, the officiating crew did the Blackhawks a big favor by inspiring them heading into the extra period.

"Obviously, we were pretty (ticked) off that the whistle blew before that one went in, but we weren't going to go away that way," Toews said. "It was frustrating at the time thinking that maybe when time ticked out, we should have won that game, but that wasn't going to faze us, and we were still focused on what we had to do after that. We showed that, and Seabs scored a big one."

Following the first two games of the Western Conference finals in Chicago, the best-of-seven series moves to Los Angeles for Game 3 (Tuesday) and Game 4 (June 6). If necessary, the series returns to Chicago for Game 5 on June 8, then back to L.A. for Game 6 on June 10. Game 7 would be in Chicago on June 12.

NOTES: Attendance was 22,103. Surprisingly, it was just the Blackhawks' fourth-largest crowd of the season. Even so, some media reports claimed ticket brokers were asking -- and getting -- up to $1,000 per seat. ... Even President Barack Obama, who was in Chicago for a Democratic Party fundraiser, showed his Windy City partisanship, telling donors that he was going to keep his comments brief because he was looking forward to watching the Hawks beat the Red Wings. Ironically, one of the organizers of the fundraiser was a Detroit-area congressman. Several fans en route to the United Center were rather upset with Obama, whose motorcade from O'Hare Airport to downtown Chicago forced incoming traffic on the Kennedy Expressway and surrounding surface streets to come to a standstill, causing near-gridlock around the arena, forcing a number of fans to miss the opening faceoff. ... Several Chicago sports celebrities were on hand to cheer the Hawks, including Bulls Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, White Sox slugger Paul Konerko and Cubs manager Dale Sveum and right-handed pitcher Jeff Samardzija.
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