It took only four games for the Chicago Blackhawks to demonstrate that their skill trumped the Wild’s system, that precision trumped volume.
Kane slew able.
Blackhawks star Patrick Kane didn’t dismantle the Wild alone, but his deft shooting and playmaking symbolized Chicago’s advantage in those telling moments when a play had to be made for a game to be won.
Chicago won four games, the Wild none. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go this season. Not after a lesser Wild team stretched Chicago to six games and an overtime last year. Not after the Wild played and looked like one of the league’s best teams for three solid months. Not with the Wild entering the second-round series with a perceived advantage in goal.
Kane again scored the most meaningful goal of a deciding playoff game against the Wild, and this time he didn’t need help from an traitorous stanchion.
With 6 minutes, 40 seconds left in the third period of Chicago’s 4-3 victory on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center, the skinny forward corralled a rolling puck and flicked it off Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk to make it 3-1.
In Game 1, Wild forward Jason Pominville mis-hit a rolling puck while facing a much larger portion of open net, and those plays were as indicative as any of the differences between these teams.
If coffee is for closers, the Wild will be drinking tea all summer.
Chicago would score an empty-netter to make it 4-1 before the Wild scored twice in the waning minutes, then peppered Chicago goalie Corey Crawford in the final seconds. Time ran out with the Wild buzzing the net, in a final homage to this team’s intensity and a final indictment of its accuracy.
What the Wild is seeing is what a championship team looks like, built with skill, talent, depth and intelligence. There is one Wild forward who would be a welcomed addition to the Blackhawks’ top two lines — Zach Parise. Otherwise, the Blackhawks are filled with high-end skill players, while the Wild has to rely on a sound defensive system and hope for favorable bounces.
The teams are symbolized by their stars.
Kane scores with precision.
Parise scores with relentlessness.
The latter is inspiring.
The former is more efficient.
As Wild players pack Friday for their lake houses, they will probably find that they can’t even work up a good hate.
Where’s Al Secord when you need him?
The Wild won its first-round series against St. Louis by grinning and bearing the Blues’ chippy play.
The second-round series was a different animal. The Blackhawks are a classy operation, happy to rely on stars with soft hands.
Chicago has eliminated the Wild in three consecutive postseasons, and the Wild can’t even find a Blackhawk deserving of a voodoo doll. There were the usual hockey scrums in this series, but nothing cheap, nothing clownish — nothing, in other words, remindful of Steve Ott.
For the Wild, taking the Blackhawks into overtime in Game 6 last season might stand as the high-water mark in this one-sided rivalry.
The biggest problem with the Wild’s championship aspirations is that Chicago is in the same division, and isn’t graduating any seniors. The division alignment favored by Wild owner Craig Leipold could haunt him for a decade.
The Wild will be dealing with Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith for years. Of Chicago’s best players, only Marian Hossa and Sharp are older than 31.
It’s not that the Wild isn’t a quality team. It’s that the Wild has been reminded in three consecutive postseasons that it faces an axle-high roadblock in the division and conference.
Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher has tried to close the gap by desperately seeking scorers. He has brought in Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Pominville and Thomas Vanek to allow the Wild to score the occasional easy goal, instead of the four-buckets-of-sweater-sweat kind this team seems to specialize in.
Sometimes making the playoffs merely forces a team to examine its weaknesses.
Kane & Co. made the Wild’s look glaring.