Blackhawk Up: Chicago Sweeps Into The Conference Finals

The second round of the NHL playoffs are halfway done, and the Chicago Blackhawks are the one team that has punched a ticket to the conference finals. The Blackhawks completed a four-game sweep of the Minnesota Wild last night in the Twin Cities. Here’s how Chicago did it…
*If Minnesota was going to win this series they were going to have to control tempo and make each game a grind. Chicago came out in the first two games and destroyed that plan. It’s not that the Wild were drastically outplayed in either game. But in each case, they were the ones doing the chasing, as both teams took 30-plus shots.
No one is going to keep up with Blackhawk weaponry in that kind of game and Chicago established that in the first period of this series. They scored three goals, with three different players lighting the lamp and five different players getting assists. That’s balance.

*Then in Games 3 & 4, Minnesota’s defense started to get Chicago under better control and the third game in particular became the type of game the Wild needed. They still lost 1-0, as Corey Crawford delivered for the Blackhawks. Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk played well, saving 21 of 22 shots—actually that’s a great game. But when you’re this type of an underdog there’s just not any room for error.
*Finally, Wild star Jason Pominville was too in-and-out in terms of his aggressiveness with the puck. He attacked the net in Games 2 & 4, but not in Games 1 & 3. It was Ovechkin-esque in terms of its inconsistency, as any observer of playoff hockey knows, a comparison to the Washington star at this time of year isn’t something you desire.
In the end, Chicago is just a much more talented hockey team and unless they’re having goaltending problems, they aren’t going to lose a series like this. I remain mystified as to why they were only (-135) betting favorites when the series opened. Nothing against Minnesota, which continues to be a rising team in the Western Conference, but the Blackhawks are the ceiling in this conference right now.
A brief look at the other three playoff series…
Anaheim-Calgary: Only three games have been played here, with the top-seeded Ducks up 2-1. I really hope Anaheim wins this one. While I don’t think they are as good as Chicago, in spite of the regular season record, the Ducks at least have some firepower, with Corey Perry leading the way. A Chicago-Anaheim conference finals would be fun. Game 4 is tonight (9:30 PM ET, NBCSN)
Tampa Bay-Montreal: The underdog Lightning grabbed the first three games, with a Game 3 stunner being the highlight this far, when they scored with about a second left in regulation to break a tie game.
It’s not unusual in the NHL for a team to come from 3-0 down to at least force a Game 7 and the Canadiens grabbed a win last night. But they’ll need to win Game 5 before this can be considered a series again. That fifth game goes tomorrow in Bell Centre (7 PM ET, NBCSN).
Washington-NY Rangers: I’ve watched most of this series and pulled for the Capitals (I’m a Bruins fan, but I’m supporting the Caps in the playoffs, since their fans are also Redskins backers, which is turf we share together). Washington is in control of the series at 3-1, but it’s not going to surprise me at all if New York comes back.
These games have just been physical wars, decided by the fortuitous bounce of a puck here and there (the only goal of Game 3 bounced in off a Ranger player’s skate). Bounces can be fickle and I’m still expecting a Game 7 in MSG before this one’s over.  The Caps try and avoid that by clinching tonight on the road (7 PM ET, NBCSN).