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updated: 5/2/2014 5:32 AM

Blackhawks vs. Wild an unlikely rematch

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  • Minnesota's Nino Niederreiter celebrates his game-winning, Game 7 overtime goal against the Avalanche and now it's on to a second-round matching with the Blackhawks that starts tonight.

      Minnesota's Nino Niederreiter celebrates his game-winning, Game 7 overtime goal against the Avalanche and now it's on to a second-round matching with the Blackhawks that starts tonight.
    Associated Press

 
 

Didn't it seem like, somehow, some way, the Blackhawks were simply destined to have a playoff showdown with Colorado?

First it was going to be in the opening round … but then the Blues stumbled down the stretch and the Avs surged late to take the top spot in the Central Division.

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Then it was going to be in the second round after the Hawks ousted St. Louis in six, while the Avs had a seemingly comfortable 3-2 series lead over Minnesota and looked to be on their way.

Never happened.

"That is weird," Patrick Sharp said. "For a long time there towards the end of the regular season, it seemed like everybody was gearing up for that matchup. That's the funny thing about our sport, how things work out. Now we're not even going to see them in the playoffs."

Nope, instead Friday night the Blackhawks will be hosting a Wild team that showed the heart of a champion Wednesday in winning Game 7 in overtime in Denver.

"I watched all of it," Sharp said. "Every time there was a goal scored, I'd think, 'Well, we're playing that team or the other team,' right down to the very end, very exciting games. It was a very fun series to watch. I thought both teams played awesome."

But in the end, the gritty Wild prevailed, setting up a rematch of last year's first-round playoff series, which the Hawks won in five games.

Minnesota coach Mike Yeo recalls that series vividly.

"I remember parts of the games last year, where I felt like we were great," Yeo said. "We'd have a great start and all of a sudden we'd lose the game 5-1 because they have an awful lot of skill over there. They're confident in their game, they stay composed, they stay with it, and then all of a sudden you make a mistake and they capitalize on it."

That kind of sounds like this year's Wild bunch, a confident group that closed with a 6-3-1 record to make the playoffs and now is coming into Chicago fresh off a stunning comeback against Colorado.

"It's a different team than we saw last year," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "They've improved in a lot of areas. Last year in the first round I didn't know what to expect from their team. But it's a whole different opponent."

The Wild won three of five games against the Hawks in the regular season, which gives them confidence heading into Game 1 (8:30 p.m.) at the United Center, but it's the high they're still on from Wednesday's win in Denver that really has them feeling good about this rematch.

"Knowing that we can fight through adversity and keep battling and keep pushing forward," Yeo said about what his team gained by toppling the Avs. "Certainly we're going to face a lot of similar challenges, and we're going to have to feel confident that we'll be ready to handle them."

The Hawks know they'll have their hands full.

"They're much better and … they played an unbelievable series against Colorado," Marian Hossa said of the Wild. "In game 7, they always came back. That's amazing.

"It's going to be a good challenge for us."

mspellman@dailyherald.com

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