Blackhawks close out Wild with 5-1 win

Jerry Bonkowski, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- It's likely no one could have predicted that the Chicago Blackhawks would win their NHL Western Conference quarterfinals series against the Minnesota Wild and their top two goal scorers would fail to net even one puck during the five games.
But that's exactly what happened as the Hawks moved on to the conference semifinals with a 5-1 win Thursday over the Wild; both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews still have not found the net in the postseason.
Believe it or not, though, that's not a bad thing. The Hawks have gotten balanced scoring from other players, which will be crucial going into the next round.
Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp were the big guns in Thursday's win, as Hossa scored two goals and an assist, while Sharp added the final goal. Sharp led the Blackhawks with five goals in the first round, while Hossa had three.
Next up for Chicago, which was the best team in the league during the lockout-shortened 48-game season, is a conference semifinal matchup against either San Jose or archrival Detroit.
The Sharks have won their first-round series, while the Red Wings must come back from a 3-2 series deficit against Anaheim.
"It doesn't matter who it's going to be," Toews said. "It's going to be a tough opponent, so we can expect that much and prepare ourselves the best we can for whatever might come in the second round."
Ironically, both Toews and Kane, who tied for the season scoring lead on the team with 23 goals apiece, are likely to be named Friday as finalists for the NHL's Hart Trophy, indicating the player deemed most valuable to his team.
"There's another guy that deserves it just as much, probably more, and to have two guys in the talks like that, it always shows you have a great supporting cast," Toews said. "It's nice. It's an honor, but you don't get to that point if your team doesn't have success the way we did this year."
While they haven't lit the goal lamp yet in the playoffs, Toews and Kane have been busy nonetheless. Kane had a series-leading six assists, while Toews had two assists Thursday.
"When you don't score, you just go with the next shift and try to score and keep going," Toews said. "If you're not scoring, you just have to find a way to contribute any way you can.
"And even if you are scoring, it doesn't excuse you from playing a complete game in the playoffs. We know that and we're not going to let that frustrate us. And we know as a team we'll find a way to get some timely goals."
As Chicago enjoys a few extra days off to rest and plan for the next round, there's still plenty of work left to do, coach Joel Quenneville said.
"I still think we have to be better," he said. "I'm not doing cartwheels the last two games. I still think there's another level we've got to get to to be more consistent in our game.
"I think it's good for everybody to get the taste of the playoffs," he said. "I think we still have to get a different type of pace to our game that's catching up to the other series that are being played and what the playoffs are all about.
"It's not the regular season. There's another appetite that we have to get as well. I don't think we should be happy with where we're at with our play and let's get angry as we go along here."
As for the Wild, the young team must look at the future of coach Mike Yeo.
While Yeo would not talk about himself, Wild center Mikko Koivu tried to offer a level-headed opinion.
"There's always questions (about coaching changes), but we still got better," Koivu said. "Emotions are high right now, so you don't want to think about it and say things you don't mean.
"We got a lot better (this season). It's an experience we have to learn from and move on and be better. Still, you have a lot of good things. At the end of the series, it's about us not scoring goals and that's the difference."
Minnesota was completely outmatched from the outset of both Thursday's game and the series as a whole. And while the Wild tried valiantly to keep themselves in the game, the Blackhawks were just too powerful and strong to let this one slip through their hands and send the series back to Minnesota for what would have been Game 6 on Saturday.
Instead, the Hawks join the Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks, who wrapped up their opening playoff rounds early and can now enjoy extra rest before starting the second round next week.
Hossa's two goals staked the Blackhawks to a 3-0 lead, sandwiched around goals by teammates Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw.
Sharp wrapped up the Blackhawks' scoring at 6:04 of the third period, muscling a slap shot away from Toews to score on the power play.
The Wild's goal came from Torrey Mitchell midway through the second period.
Goalie Josh Harding, who left Game 4 with an injury after a collision with Toews in the crease, was pulled from the net after giving up Hossa's second goal early in the second period.
Harding was replaced by rookie Darcy Kuemper, who gave up Chicago's other two goals. Harding and Kuemper stopped just 28 of 33 shots.
The Wild tried to show some offensive spark, but Chicago goalie Corey Crawford shined once again, stopping 21 of 22 shots.
The Blackhawks lead the all-time series against the Wild 20-19-9.
NOTES: Attendance was 21,597. ... Goalie Ray Emery continues to be a scratch for the Blackhawks. However, Quenneville said Emery is getting healthier from the undisclosed lower-body injury. ... Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom remained out of the lineup with a lower-back injury. ... Chicago is 13-13 in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. ... Minnesota came into Thursday's game with a 7-3 record in playoff elimination games, including rallying from 3-1 deficits in both of its prior first-round playoff series. ... The Wild had just four players remaining from the team that reached the playoffs the last time in 2008. ... Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs took part in the "Shoot the Puck" contest after the second period. He made his first shot but missed his three other attempts.

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