CALGARY – Whooping, hollering and maybe a water fight in the locker-room are what you might expect from the young Chicago Blackhawks who’d won the team’s first NHL playoff series in 13 years.
But the Blackhawks didn’t act like a team of twenty-somethings on or off the ice in their conference quarter-final series win over the Calgary Flames. Chicago downed injury-riddled Calgary 4-1 in Monday’s Game 6 to take the series 4-2. The Blackhawks’ previous playoff series win was a four-game sweep of Calgary back in 1996.
The Blackhawks were simply relieved after Monday’s game to have earned their first road win in the series and get themselves a breather before facing the well-rested Vancouver Canucks in the next round.
“We’re excited about the win, but you pay the price,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “You take a lot of pressure and abuse.”
Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist for Chicago with Adam Burish and defenceman Brian Campbell also scoring before the end of the second period. Dustin Byfuglien added an empty-net goal and had two assists. Calder Trophy nominee Kris Versteeg also contributed two assists.
Todd Bertuzzi scored the lone goal for the Flames early in the third. Calgary managed just two goals in the final two games of the series and were ousted in the first round for a fourth straight season.
The Flames spent up to the salary cap to build a team for a long post-season run. Injuries hampered them in this series, but the depth wasn’t there in the playoffs either.
“The organization gave us the opportunity to go deep and to win and we didn’t get it done,” Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. “Injuries are part of it.
“Even with those, we were still capable for winning this series and it’s hard to take.”
The veil held over the Flames injuries through the series was lifted after Monday’s game, revealing that defenceman Dion Phaneuf was a scratch for Game 6 because of broken ribs he suffered getting checked by Chicago’s Troy Brouwer in Game 5.
Defenceman Cory Sarich played on a fractured foot and both of Daymond Langkow’s hands were not fully functional. The Flames were without shutdown defenceman Robyn Regehr (knee) for the entire series. Rene Bourque’s ankle that kept him out of the final 24 games of the regular season wasn’t fully healed either.
Chicago was the healthier team through the series as they iced the same lineup every game with the exception of substituting Colin Fraser in for Kane in Game 3.
But to dwell on the Flames injury woes would take away from the Blackhawks’ poise, tenacity and speed in this series.
The Blackhawks had 10 players with a combined 309 playoff games between them compared to Calgary’s 19 players with 764 post-season games.
They beat Calgary in the faceoff circle in five of the six games and outscored them 10-5 in second periods.
They fought back from one-and two-goal deficits in the first two games of the series to win them at home. After losing two in Calgary, Chicago dominated the Flames in a 5-1 victory in Game 5.
Chicago scored seven power-play goals, including two Monday. The Flames had ended the regular season on a 0-for-45 power-play drought and were only marginally better in this series with two goals on 18 chances.
Chicago was quicker out of their own zone, faster on the forecheck and they weren’t afraid to engage Calgary physically.
“All season, I think teams thought they could challenge us physically and we’ve done a good job of answering that bell,” Burish said. “I think a lot of our guys enjoy that. I know I enjoy those confrontations.”
Their top defensive pairing of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith played a key role in holding Iginla to three goals and an assist.
“I definitely feel a big responsibility and a part of it for not helping us get it done,” Iginla said.
Chicago has 14 players under the age of 25. Burish says the talk in the dressing room prior to Monday’s game was about showing the league this young team is for real.
“Since the start of the year, guys weren’t happy with just saying ‘the fans were back and this is a fun team to watch,”‘ Burish said. “We wanted to show people we’re a good hockey team and a team that’s going to make the playoffs and is going to do more than make the playoffs.
“Guys had that edge that said ‘You know what? It’s more than just filling the building every night.”‘
Chicago goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin made 43 saves for the win. He continues to be a thorn in Calgary’s side as he’s 8-3 in the playoffs versus the Flames, including beating them in the 2004 Stanley Cup final when he played for Tampa Bay. His regular-season record versus the Flames is 22-5-2.
“People started saying in Game 3 and Game 4 he wasn’t playing his best hockey,” Toews said. “He’s our best player and he proved that again tonight.”
Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff stopped 12 of 15 shots in the loss. Without Phaneuf and Regehr on Monday, the Flames’ defence couldn’t contain six-foot-three, 247-pound Byfuglien, who assisted on Chicago’s two goals in the first period.
“Big Buff, he’s a man-child out there,” Burish said.
Chicago will start on the road versus Vancouver, so Monday’s road win was significant for the ‘Hawks in more than just clinching the series.
“To win the big prize, you’ve got to be able to win on the road and we hadn’t been able to do that yet,” Burish said. “Holding off a desperate team in the third period and not letting them sneak back in was great for us. Winning a game on the road is big for our confidence. Little things along the way we can kind of hang onto and build on.”