Eight down, eight to go.
"It doesn't matter what order you get them in," said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. "You just have to get them."
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The Blackhawks got a very big one Tuesday night in Minnesota when they defeated the Wild 2-1 in overtime and finished off a stubborn division team that gave the Hawks everything they had -- and then some.
The 4-2 series victory had the standard number of ups and downs for the Hawks, who have had difficulty the first two series with two physical clubs, leading to fears that the Hawks just don't have enough left in the tank to repeat as Stanley Cup champs.
But what's often missed is the incredible heart and character of a group that has had its back against the wall so many times the last two years that they really don't know any formula other than to turn it on when forced to bring their best.
"It's not like we plan it that way," said Patrick Sharp. "It's not like we want to go down 2-0 in a series or 3-1, like we did last year (against Detroit). That just seems to bring out the best in us.
"Obviously, we'd like to take an easier route. This is just how it's been for us the last two years."
Chalk up some of it to a team that understands how to win and how to flip that switch when necessary, a team with great confidence in its ability to overcome -- and fearless when they are in a tight spot.
"There's a lot of guys in this room who have been through a lot," said Kris Versteeg, who scored his first goal of the playoffs and the first goal of the game Tuesday after just 1:58. "We just have guys who believe in each other and believe in their ability."
Don't underestimate, as well, how difficult it is to make deep playoff runs in back-to-back seasons.
Listen to the players from the Red Wings teams that won back-to-back Cups in the '90s, or even the team from 2009 that won the title the previous year and then lost in seven games to Pittsburgh the following season.
There's only so much to give.
"I think there's a lot of teams that have had to play a lot of hockey, including the Olympics," said Marian Hossa, who's played 109 postseason games and two Olympic tournaments and made four trips to the Final in the last seven years. "The mental part of it is sometimes as hard as the physical part of it for a lot of players."
Hossa went to the Final three years in a row, losing with Pittsburgh and Detroit before winning with the Hawks in 2010.
"It's a lot of tense hockey and you have to prepare yourself for hard games and difficult hockey all the time," he said. "It's not an easy thing, but it's not supposed to be easy if you want to win the championship. That's why it's the hardest trophy to win."
Credit the Hawks on Tuesday with matching the Minnesota pace to start the game, and the first period was the best 20 minutes for the Hawks so far in this series.
But after Versteeg scored early, the Wild tied it 2:29 into the second when the Hawks got caught in an odd-man break, and Erik Haula beat Corey Crawford for his fourth of the playoffs.
Crawford, however, was brilliant again, and he kept the Hawks in it during a ferocious push by the Wild in the third period, forcing overtime, and Crawford kept the Hawks alive for the first nine minutes of OT with outstanding goaltending.
Then it was Patrick Kane again. After a Brent Seabrook shoot-in took an odd bounce off the boards, Kane pounced on a loose puck and roofed a brilliant backhander for the series winner.
"I probably put it a little bit higher than I wanted," Kane said. "It was a battle. Give Minnesota a lot of credit. We were probably fortunate to win tonight. Crawford was great."
With the overtime victory, the Hawks earned a couple days off and now will hope the Kings can extend the series with the Ducks to a seventh game with a victory in Game 6 Wednesday night.
Either way, the Hawks have earned another shot at the conference title.
But that's not the one they really want.
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