Moments after sending the Blackhawks on a return trip to the Western Conference finals with a highlight-reel goal in overtime, Patrick Kane encountered Mike Yeo in the traditional handshake line and told the Wild coach, "You guys have a hell of a team."
The Wild may have proven that by throwing a scare into the defending Stanley Cup champions before Kane ended things in stunning fashion in Game 6 of their playoff series Tuesday night at the Xcel Energy Center, but the Hawks showed they're a level above the other Central Division teams.
"It's clearly a great group of guys," captain Jonathan Toews said of the Hawks. "We want to play for each other. We want to win (and) that's all that matters really. We faced a little bit of adversity and it means so much more when you succeed (after coming) out of those situations. We have to keep that feeling going."
The Hawks will have an opportunity to do that when they open the conference finals against either the Ducks or Kings this weekend. It is the fourth season in the last six that the Hawks have reached this stage.
"We're a resilient bunch," goaltender Corey Crawford said. "We never give up, never get down or get too high."
Added defenseman Duncan Keith: "It's special to be playing (as) one of the final four teams. This is what you work for all year in the summer."
With first the Blues and now the Wild in their rearview mirror, the Hawks know the road will become even more treacherous with the Stanley Cup Final one step away.
"Every round gets harder," Crawford said. "We just have to get some rest and prepare to play even harder."
Mixed with the euphoria of their Game 6 triumph was the belief in the Hawks' dressing room that they aren't playing their best hockey and they will have to ratchet up the intensity and skill level in the next series.
"It's a good thing to get through the series and know we can win these games even when we're not playing our best," Kane said. "We'll try to pick it up to another level."
The first two rounds were an education for the Hawks as they confirmed they can handle the physical style of play that the Blues quite literally hit them with in the first round and then adapt to a slower-paced style the Wild implemented.
"We can learn from both series," Keith said. "(Against) St. Louis we got through a real physical series and this one we can take away ... exactly how we need to play to be successful -- making smart plays with the puck and using our speed to support one another. There is a sense we can be better with the puck and using our speed and creating more chances."
An advantage to locking up the series against the Wild in six games meant time to rest for the Hawks. They had a day off Wednesday and figure to have some down time before the next series begins that should benefit several players who are playing through injuries.
"Both these series were tight, tough (and) demanding," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We should be excited about what we have achieved and enjoy the break knowing we have a very tough opponent coming up."
Added Crawford: "It's always nice to get days off after a series to rest up and get ready mentally. After a couple of days, we can start thinking about hockey and get back at it."
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