If anyone is to say the Chicago Blackhawks haven’t played their best game yet, it’s Patrick Kane.
The prolific right winger tallied the overtime, Stanley Cup-clinching goal in 2010 and was awarded the 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy for amassing nine goals and 19 points (including nine points in his final 10 games). After contributing 10 goals and 20 points in 17 games of this year’s playoffs, Kane vowed for more from the Stanley Cup Final-bound Chicago team.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” he told reporters when discussing the Western Conference Final victory over the Anaheim Ducks. “But it’s a great step.”
It has not been an easy road for the Blackhawks. Their first draw was the Central Division’s second-seeded Nashville Predators. Goaltender Corey Crawford struggled mightily to open the series, causing backup Scott Darling to appear in five games, including four starts. Crawford eventually rediscovered what landed him the starting job, and Darling has not appeared in a minute of playoff action since exiting Game 6 (a game that Crawford eventually won).
However, concerns mounted as Chicago was outscored in the six-game series, 21-19. Criticism of the Blackhawks’ defensive and goaltending depth was the focus heading into what-looked-like a tough series against the Minnesota Wild.
The Blackhawks returned to form. Kane tallied an impressive five goals and six points and Crawford allowed just seven goals on 124 shots against (.943 save percentage). The Blackhawks were the dominant team, outscoring the Wild 13-7 in the four-game sweep.
The battle between the Ducks and Blackhawks to decide the Western Conference champion was one that will not soon be forgotten. After a 4-1 Ducks victory in Game 1, the two teams engaged in a series that could have gone either way in most games. Games 2-5 were decided by one goal, with one of those games needing three overtimes (Game 2, 3-2 Chicago win), one needing two overtimes (Game 4, 5-4 Chicago victory) and one contest requiring a single overtime (Game 5, 5-4 Anaheim win).
The Game 7 victory was done in true Blackhawks fashion, as all of the names you would expect shined to close out the series. Jonathan Toews notched two goals, Duncan Keith tallied two assists and, of course, Kane scored three assists in the 5-3 victory.
Despite his three points, Kane was quick to point to the locker room leader as the source of inspiration.
“It speaks volumes about the character in this room, and the leadership, starting with the captain,” Kane said. “You get two goals (from Toews) right away. It’s pretty remarkable how he shows up in these games, and seems to come through time after time.”
The Blackhawks’ next challenge will start Wednesday evening in Florida, as the Tampa Bay Lightning will be looking to add their second Stanley Cup title in 11 years.
If the Blackhawks have another level of play to reach, as Kane said, the Lightning will have their work cut out for them. If history indicates anything, Chicago’s superstars have a considerable amount of big-game moments left in the tank.
Here are the rest of the headlines from a busy weekend in the NHL.
There are comparisons that can be drawn between the 2004 and 2015 Lightning squads. [Sportsnet.ca]
The NHL is beating baseball in some TV ratings. [TV By The Numbers]
Former Star Brenden Morrow is back in the Stanley Cup Final. [Defending Big D]
Country artist Garth Brooks had to cancel his tour dates in Tampa due to the Lightning’s home game schedule. [TBO Seen]
The Oshawa Generals won the Memorial Cup thanks to Anthony Cirelli. [The Hockey News]
The Blues can build their defense around Jordan Schmaltz and Petteri Lindbohm. [Today’s Slapshot]
Ryan Kesler helped bring the Ducks closer, but not to the ultimate goal. [Puck Daddy]