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Chicago Blackhawks reach Stanley Cup Final after Game 7 victory over Anaheim Ducks


Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Blackhawks are heading to their third Stanley Cup Final since 2010 after beating the Anaheim Ducks, 5-3, in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final on Saturday night. The Hawks will face the Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the next round with a chance at earning their third Cup in the Toews/Kane era.

A year after being eliminated in Game 7 of the West Final by the Los Angeles Kings, the Blackhawks looked like a team keenly determined not to repeat the same fate. They came out firing early with a new-look first line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, and never let up even after putting together an early lead.

Toews scored twice, Kane dished three assists and Duncan Keith followed up his three-assist performance in Game 6 with another two helpers. Brent Seabrook scored the clincher on a power play with about six minutes left in regulation, culminating a star-laden effort that has the team in its Stanley Cup Final since 2013.

The captain got the team on the board in the first period with a pair of goals, first beating Frederik Andersen on a rebound, then tallying another on the power play to go up 2-0. The Hawks held an identical lead against Los Angeles last year before eventually losing, 5-4, but this time around, there would be no disappointing downfall.

Saad netted a third goal for the Hawks less than two minutes into the second period, easily firing one into the open net after a gorgeous pass from Kane. It was a brilliant play from both wingers, with Kane's fake shot completely catching Andersen off guard once he tapped it over to Saad:

The Hawks weren't done from there, either, continuing to push aggressively even with a three-goal lead in hand. After all the blown leads in these playoffs, including that three-goal outburst by Anaheim in the third period Game 4, Chicago wasn't content lettings its style be dictated by the score.

The result was a constant flow of chances on Andersen throughout the game, many of them coming on odd-man rushes or breakaways. Compared to earlier in the series, when the Ducks were clogging things in the neutral zone and limiting the Hawks' big chances, this felt like the floodgates finally opening.

Even when Chicago wasn't putting together a perfect play like the Kane-Saad goal, there were some favorable bounces. The biggest went off of Marian Hossa's skate and into the goal, giving the team a 4-0 advantage with roughly 13 minutes left in the second period. A review of the play concluded that Hossa had not kicked the puck into the net, awarding the winger a goal of the lucky variety.

Anaheim wouldn't back down late, however. Ryan Kesler got the Ducks on the scoreboard with an impressive shot from a tough angle that got past Corey Crawford and rattled around the goalposts, cutting the Hawks' lead to 4-1. Corey Perry added another with eight minutes left in the third period, then Matt Beleskey tallied one in the final minute with a 6-on-4 advantage to make it 5-3 and close out the scoring.

The Blackhawks may not have played a perfect series, but they made the right adjustments and stepped up when the situation demanded it. The Ducks deserve a lot of credit for pushing things to the brink with their physical, relentless style. Ryan Getzlaf and Perry didn't have enough in the biggest moments, though, and that's a stark contrast from the clutch brilliance of Toews, Kane and Keith.

Now the the Blackhawks have a chance to face Steven Stamkos and company in the Stanley Cup Final with a chance at adding another banner to the rafters, even if it wasn't easy. With this team, it never is. Still, I don't think anyone can complain with the results.

Now it's time to celebrate. Bring on the Lightning.