Commentary

Blackhawks stepping into spotlight

Defending champs, sparked by Patrick Kane, show it will be a long playoff run

Updated: May 3, 2014, 2:24 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- There were more than 11 minutes left in the third period in a newly tied game, but it was clear that overtime and midnight were both beckoning.

Patrick Kane, a man accustomed to closing, had different ideas.

Breezily skating from the Blackhawks' blue line, treating three defenders like traffic cones, Kane connected with a one-hand backhand flip over Ilya Bryzgalov's left shoulder to give the Blackhawks the lead they had just squandered.

A profligate celebrator of goals, it looked as if Kane said, "Showtime" twice after the goal, which turned out to be the go-ahead score of a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series.

[+] EnlargePatrick Kane
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhPatrick Kane has the ability to turn games around in an instant, a trait that was on display in the Hawks' Game 1 win over the Wild.

"Did it look like I said that?" Kane said. "Sometimes I don't even know what I'm saying. I was pretty pumped up after that one. You kind of get in your own little world. I don't even know what I said, to be honest with you."

Showtime. Kane Time. Chicago Playoff Standard Time.

It's looking as if it's the Blackhawks' time once again. It's pretty clear the defending champions are sticking around for a while, isn't it?

To top himself, Kane answered that goal with another one, touching in a redirect from Ben Smith, and it was all over, except for the empty-netter.

A week ago, Kane scored the game winner in overtime in Game 4 against the St. Louis Blues, his third career playoff sudden-death goal. This time, he made sure the game ended on time with his fourth and fifth goals of the playoffs.

"The thing I like about Kaner the best is the big stages -- he always seems to step up and put one in," said linemate Patrick Sharp, who picked up assists on both of Kane's goals.

With the win, the Blackhawks have now won five straight in the playoffs, and as they'll tell you, they have plenty of room to improve. After suffering an 0-2 deficit against St. Louis, they won four straight to close out the Blues. That led to a little break while the Wild and Colorado Avalanche played a seven-game series.

Judging from Friday's effort, it looked as if the rest helped. This is an experienced playoff team accustomed to the highs and lows of a series. In the postgame locker room, the Blackhawks were grateful and confident.

Grateful because they almost blew this one and confident because they came back.

The Blackhawks led 2-0 after two periods on power-play goals from Bryan Bickell and Marian Hossa. But the Wild struck twice early in the third period to tie the score.

The score was tied for about a minute and a half before Kane's highlight-reel goal. Last season, he scored the greasy goals in the playoffs. As he scored his way to the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, his teammates called him "Benefish," for being the beneficiary of others' shots. But this one will go in his Hall of Fame reel.

"I don't know what else you can say about Kaner," goaltender Corey Crawford said. "That guy turns around a lot of games for us."

It was Crawford's name the fans were chanting throughout the game. He stopped 25 shots in the first two periods before the Wild got to him in the third. The Blackhawks killed three penalties in front of him.

"Some more great kills," he said. "Our guys are doing an unbelievable job on the penalty kill. Special teams are a factor again."

So, let's see. The stars are playing like stars, the special teams are clicking and Crawford is making the home fans chant his name.

Yes, it's May in Chicago.

This game also highlighted the contributions of familiar playoff heroes such as Bickell, who had two goals -- including an empty-netter -- and Hossa, not to mention Smith, who's centering the Flyin' Patrick Line. Smith's a guy we'll be talking about for the rest of this run because he's going to get plenty of opportunities to make a difference.

"He wants to do good, he's a hard-working kid," Kane said of Smith. "Probably one of the hardest workers on the team. It's nice to see him get rewarded with some ice time and opportunity."

In summation: If you're one of approximately 600 people in this city without an official Blackhawks jersey, it's probably time to snag one (maybe a Smith?) and jump on the bandwagon. Because it's going to be a long postseason.

While the Bulls hit the beach and the Cubs and White Sox battle over the (Your Sponsor Here) Crosstown Cup next week, it's a Blackhawks spring once again. (Except for Thursday and Friday, when Da Bears Draft takes over.)

We've got the playoff hockey, now all we need is some playoff weather. Can someone tell Kane to make it not rain?

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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