Hockey / Sports

The Chicago Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw celebrates a goal by temmate Jonathan Toews goal against the St. Louis Blues in thir period of Game 6 of the NHL Western Conference quarterfinals at United Center in Chicago, Sunday, April 27, 2014. The Blackhawks defeated the Blues, 5-1. (Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

Blackhawks succeed staying above the fray

When the chippiness went away, that's when the Blackhawks could play.

In hindsight, that was the turning point in the Hawks' opening-round playoff victory over the Blues -- as the excessive physical play toned down after a hypersensitive Game 2, the Blackhawks regained focus, stopped engaging the Blues after the whistle and tried to prevent the Blues from getting in their heads.

"There are always moments where you're heated and you get carried away, but we told ourselves all series that that's not how we're going to win by getting into that stuff after the whistle," captain Jonathan Toews said. "So we used our energy between whistles and cleaned up on both sides a little bit."

In doing so, they swept away the Blues in the final four games like ice shavings during a TV timeout. And as the Hawks await their next opponent, it's a fair question to ask if they again face the type of play that hampered them early in the series, could they overcome it as they did with the Blues?

"We were comfortable playing whatever style," Patrick Sharp said. "The fact we could hang in there, dish out some big hits on physical players and come out on top is a good feeling."

The Avalanche and the Wild, who squared off in Game 7 of their series Wednesday night, present two distinct styles.

Well, the Wild defeated the Avalanche, 5-4, in overtime, so Minnesota will be the Blackhawks' next opponent.

Now, the styles:

The Wild likely would try to make the series a slog. That will mean clogging the middle of the ice to keep the Hawks from using their speed and skill to run roughshod.

The Wild are like the Hawks in that they were among the teams with the fewest amount of hits during the regular season. The Hawks were 30th, the Wild were 29th.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, were 10th on that list and defeated the Hawks four of five times during the regular season. They routinely outhit the Hawks, but in the Hawks' lone victory, the Avalanche had 42 hits, the Hawks' 19. Of more pressing concern to the Hawks should be that the Avalanche also proved they have the weapons to skate with the Hawks and might not have to stoop to extracurricular activity after the whistle to get into the Hawks' heads.

But if there's one thing the Hawks could glean from their dispatching of the Blues, it's that they could get physical if they have to, or they could win in spite of going blow for blow with their opponent. Both traits may have to be on display in Round 2.

"We have guys who might not be the most physical guys, but they have a lot of heart," Brent Seabrook said. "You look at some of the guys during the games. They'll take a beating and they keep coming."

Toews, who turned 26 on Tuesday, was named a finalist for the Mark Messier Leadership Award along with the Kings' Dustin Brown and Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks. Toews was runner-up to Daniel Alfredsson for the award last season.

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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