Dietz: Hawks overcame adversity on many levels this season
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It's been a tumultuous, roller-coaster season for the Chicago Blackhawks.
The bumps started in late December when they lost assistant equipment manager and good friend to many, Clint Reif.
Then Patrick Kane broke his clavicle in February. A week later, off-ice rumors about Patrick Sharp were addressed.
In March, the team started slipping down the standings, and a wild-card spot became a real possibility.
With all of that to overcome -- all of those distractions, combined with uneven play on the ice -- you could hardly blame Hawks fans for thinking a run to the Stanley Cup Final was nothing short of a pipe-dream.
But then the "real" season began. And, wow did the Hawks turn it on.
After clearing the hurdles that were Nashville and Minnesota, hard-hitting Anaheim awaited in the Western Conference finals, and while the Hawks faced plenty of adversity, they overcame a 3-2 series deficit and eliminated the Ducks on Saturday with perhaps their most dominant performance of the postseason.
Jonathan Toews scored 2 early goals, Brandon Saad made it 3-0 early in the second period and the Hawks advanced to their third Stanley Cup Final in six years with a 5-3 victory at the Honda Center.
"We never really stopped believing in ourselves," Sharp said. "We were hearing a lot of things about our team in the regular season. Seems like we put things back together at the right time and we're back in the finals with this group.
"We know what we have in this room, we believe in each other, we believe in the organization and it really doesn't matter what other people say."
The Hawks will play Tampa Bay, which eliminated the Rangers on Friday, with Game 1 set for Wednesday at 7 p.m.
As for the Ducks, it was their third Game 7 loss at home in the last three seasons.
"There (were) no moments in this series where there were any lulls that maybe Anaheim didn't play their best hockey and we got away with it," Toews said. "We had to earn everything against that team.
"It was an incredible test for both teams. I think everyone watched some pretty entertaining hockey with the talents, and the offense, going back and forth. Sometimes it's the goaltending that was unbelievable.
"So, yeah, we're excited. It's a great feeling to have found a way to close out a series against a team like that."
Using the energy and passion from a dominant Game 6 victory at the United Center, coach Joel Quenneville's squad kept its foot on the Ducks' throats and broke the hearts of most of the 17,375 in attendance before fans had even warmed their seats.
Toews' goals came at 2:23 and 11:55 of the first period, the second on the power play. The Captain was once again paired up with Patrick Kane, and the Ducks had absolutely no answer for the Hawks' dynamic duo.
"We hung in there the whole series no matter what, no matter whether we were down a few goals or down a game a couple times," said Kane, who had 3 assists and now has 20 points in the postseason. "Fought back. It speaks volumes about the character in this room."
Corey Crawford came up big with 35 saves and turned away most of Anaheim's prime chances in the second period. Crawford allowed just 5 goals the last two games, while his counterpart, Frederik Andersen, allowed 18 over the last four games.
"I felt pretty good from the start (of the series)," Crawford said.
Some of the Hawks tried to draw upon how sick they felt after losing to the Kings in Game 7 of the West finals almost exactly a year ago to the day.
"It was a real negative moment," Quenneville said. "Last year getting that far, it's an amazing journey, it's a tough battle -- a lot of (sigh) tough ones.
"You've got to get ready in training camp and you think, 'Wow. You know how long it is to get to where we got today? It's like an eternity.'
"Commend the guys. Perseverance, finding ways, (overcoming) different challenges, making the playoffs. Today's game was a great accomplishment, especially when teams are excited about playing you.
"It's just a testament to the way they prepare."
In the handshake line after the game, Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf brought up the rear for the Ducks. Kesler and Toews -- fiercely competitive against each other all series -- gave each other a chest bump, while Toews and Getzlaf hugged.
"It's the start of summer now," Kesler said, "and we're going to have to get over this and get ready for next year because I'll tell you right now: This group is not done. We have unfinished business."
After the teams shook hands, the Hawks were presented the Campbell Bowl for winning the Western Conference -- not that they spent much time admiring it.
"I looked at it a little bit," Crawford said. "But we all know what we're working for the whole year. Just a quick picture and out of there."
And on to Tampa Bay, just 4 victories away from capturing the trophy Crawford and Co. have in fact been working for all season long.
• Follow John's Hawks reports on Twitter at @johndietzdh.
Three stars of the game1. Jonathan Toews, Hawks. Scores 2 goals in first 11:55 of the game and also wins 5 of 7 on faceoffs in momentum-setting first period.
2. Brandon Saad, Hawks. His goal early in the third drained any energy that was left in the Honda Center, and he also drew the penalty leading to Toews' second goal.
3. Corey Crawford, Hawks. Made 35 saves, many of them coming in the second period when Ducks were desperately trying to get back in the game.
-- John Dietz