Veterans know there's no reason to celebrate yet

It's only been three years since the Blackhawks last won the Western Conference.

It just feels longer.

And though merely two playoff seasons and a pair of first-round exits have passed, to the holdovers from the Stanley Cup squad it seems like a different career, which is why their postgame tone was somewhat muted Saturday night when the Hawks finally put away the Los Angeles Kings in double-overtime.

“It does feel like a long time ago,” said Brent Seabrook, one of eight regulars still with the team. “But you understand you can't get there every year. There's a lot of great players and a lot of great teams that don't get to play in the Final.”

While those new to the team the last two years enjoyed very much the 4-3 victory and 4-1 series win over the defending champs on home ice, the core players remaining from 2010 appeared more relieved than possessing any feeling of having achieved.

Honestly, it's a ring thing — and that's a good thing.

“It never gets old,” said Marian Hossa. “It's nice to get back to the Final, competing for the best trophy in sports.”

Many of the current Hawks remember what it's like to be the king, as do the Kings, and it's a feeling they are more concerned with now than any bowl not named after Lord Stanley.

That was still in doubt around 11 p.m. Saturday when Bryan Bickell sprung Jonathan Toews with a hook along the boards, and Toews was off with Patrick Kane on a 2-on-1.

Toews drew Kings goalie Jonathan Quick out of the net and hit Kane with a perfect pass for the one-timer and a hat trick with 8:20 left in the fifth period.

Kane pumped his arm, screamed, hats consumed the ice and his teammates consumed Kane in a pile near center ice.

“Incredible pass by Toews,” Seabrook said. “Kane wasn't going to miss that one.”

After the handshakes, which saw Corey Crawford get numerous hugs from the champs now dispatched, the Hawks gathered around the trophy, while the fans chanted, “We want the Cup!”

No one, however, wanted the Clarence Campbell Bowl.

The Hawks took their picture with it, but did not touch, and then trudged to their dressing room for a much-needed rest.

“We've had an interesting playoffs,” said coach Joel Quenneville. “I thought we've gotten better as we've gone along.”

As has been the case of late, Bickell was in the middle of everything. He was called for boarding and Los Angeles scored on the resulting power play to tie it at 2-2 at 3:34 of the third.

With just under four minutes remaining, Bickell got away with a trip behind the net, scooped up the puck and quickly fed Kane, who scored the go-ahead goal with 3:52 remaining.

But with 14 seconds left, Bickell iced the puck, giving the hockey gods a chance to pay back the Hawks. Toews lost the faceoff and Mike Richards tipped in a long shot to tie the game with 9.4 seconds remaining in regulation.

Bickell still had one more trick up his sleeve, however, and his final hook of the night in double-overtime put the Hawks into the Final and sent the Kings home for the summer.

“It's surreal to think we're there,” said Bickell. “Growing up as a kid, this is something you dream about being a part of. This will be an experience we'll never forget.”

The Hawks will face the big bad Bruins, who also a have a roster filled with players who danced with the Cup only two years ago, and they will be a ferocious opponent not likely to go away without a fight — just as the Kings would not go quietly into the Chicago night.

“Once you've won the Stanley Cup, it means a lot more to get knocked out,” said Quick, who won the Conn Smythe a year ago. “You don't really know what you're playing for until you win the Cup. It really, really hurts to know you won't win it again.”

The Hawks know this all too well — and it will serve them well beginning Wednesday at home.

Let the real games begin.

ŸListen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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