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Blackhawks advance to second round with masterly performance

Who would you rather face - Avalanche or Wild?

WATCH: Duncan Keith after Game 6: ‘Get it done tonight’
WATCH: Patrick Sharp after Game 6 win: ‘It was a tough series’
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Updated: April 27, 2014 9:05PM

The score tied, the series close, the second period an almost comically one-sided affair in the wrong direction, someone — nobody could remember exactly who — spoke up over the usual intermission din of the Blackhawks dressing room.

“Get it done tonight. Push it for 20 minutes.”

Physically and emotionally taxed, and on their heels, the last thing the Hawks wanted to do was go back to St. Louis for a Game 7. They wanted a win, they wanted to advance, they wanted to rest. So whether it was the resolve that Blues coach Ken Hitchcock talked about, or the experience that Jonathan Toews frequently talks about, or the sheer depth of skill that everyone knows about, the Hawks went out in the third period and finally put an end to one of the toughest and roughest first-round series in recent memory.

The Hawks finally vanquished — withstood? escaped? survived? — the Blues on Sunday afternoon, scoring four goals in the third period of a 5-1, series-clinching victory in Game 6.

The Hawks now get a few crucial days off — they won’t even practice Monday or Tuesday — to recover for a second-round series against either Colorado or Minnesota (the Avalanche are up 3-2 in the series, with Game 6 on Monday night).

“I love this,” Andrew Shaw said. “Look forward to this all year. If we could just play playoffs all year, I’d love that. A lot of hard-fought games, but we’ve got the next few days to rest up and get prepared for the next one.”

To win Game 6, It took a third game-winning goal in four games from Toews. It took a four-point effort from Duncan Keith that Joel Quenneville said might have been the best game he’s ever played. It took another stellar, 35-save effort from Corey Crawford. It took a perfect 6-for-6 effort on the penalty kill.

And to win the series, it took four straight wins after dropping the first two in St. Louis. It took four overtime games over the series. And it took every bit of character, grit, resilience, luck and all the other intangibles that the Hawks could muster.

The concern heading into the series was the physical toll it would take on the Hawks at the very beginning of a — they hope — two-month quest for a repeat Stanley Cup. Now, the question is, can the momentum generated from winning such a tough series in such a tough fashion carry them through the spring?

“Any time you’re in a tough spot, if you’re down two games in a series, and you’re able to come back from it to survive and move on, that gives you a feeling of — I wouldn’t say invincibility — but that feeling you’re very able to overcome a lot of adversity,” Toews said. “I think we have that feeling in here.”

That feeling allowed them to overcome a second period in which they were outshot 17-3, having to kill off eight minutes of penalties and dodge more than a few bullets.

Fortunate to still be tied 1-1 through two, the Hawks came out like a different team in the third. Toews scored on a power play — the Hawks’ first of the game — 44 seconds into the third. Patrick Sharp scored his first goal of the playoffs 77 seconds later, blocking a Kevin Shattenkirk shot, taking a Patrick Kane pass for a breakaway and beating Ryan Miller while taking a Shattenkirk stick to the face. Shaw made it 4-1 five minutes later, redirecting a Keith shot past Miller. Then Keith, who created the first two goals by making nifty saves at the point, scored to seal it with 2:55 left in the game.

“It feels good,” Keith said. “It was a tough series. Every game was close, and even tonight, you could tell it was a close game for 50 minutes, and then we were able to [create] some distance there. It felt good to get that momentum, and I think we did a good job of just holding on to it.”

For the Blues, it’s another agonizing first-round defeat in the same fashion they lost to Los Angeles last year. And this one will hurt worse, given how they dominated the league for much of the year, then made the biggest trade-deadline splash by acquiring goalie Ryan Miller and forward Steve Ott, only to suffer the same fate. They lost 10 of their last 12 games.

“It’s hard,” said T.J. Oshie, who scored the Blues’ lone goal in the first period. “I think St. Louis deserves a Stanley Cup, and this should have been the year that we gave it to them.”

For the Hawks, perhaps the most daunting thing is that they’re only a quarter of the way to their goal. One round down, three to go. The postgame celebration was muted — no dog piles, no baseball-like champagne showers, just some head-taps and fist-pumps and the traditional handshake line.

“To a certain degree, we want to act like we’ve been here before, and show respect for how good that team is and how well they’ve played,” Toews said. “But getting out of the first round doesn’t mean you’ve done anything yet.”

Keith didn’t want to look too far ahead, to think about the toll this series took, or the momentum it could generate. And Toews didn’t even want to think about the fact that this series — this “battle,” in his words — is likely to happen nearly every year under the new divisional playoff format.

“Well, we have that to look forward to,” Toews deadpanned. “Don’t remind me.”


Twitter: @marklazerus

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