The Chicago Blackhawks are going to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Never thought it would happen so quickly, or so profoundly.
Sunday's victory by the Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals capped a 4-0 series whitewash of the top-seeded San Jose Sharks. Despite the sweep, however, the series played out like a seven-game series grinder. Hits, injuries, and high-paced action were major factors throughout, and so was goaltender play.
Chicago goalie Antti Niemi continued his wizardry, while San Jose netminder Evgeni Nabokov kept eyebrows raised. Some thought-provoking (shark)bites came from the victory.
1. Niemi is just a rookie, albeit at age 26. But when Cam Ward won the Cup as a rookie goaltender in 2006, was he just a few years removed from riding a Zamboni to make extra money?
2. Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith sounds (and truly looks, missing teeth and all) like a hockey player. Chiclets anyone?
3. San Jose raised the intensity every game of the series. The Sharks will still have their doubters around the NHL spectrum, but their physicality and increased tenacity earned them some stripes.
4. The Big Three was the Big One for the Sharks in the conference finals. Patrick Marleau carried a struggling offense. Without him, this series is a laugher sweep instead of an intense sweep for Chicago. Removing the captaincy from him turned his recent playing career around.
5. Chicago's Dave Bolland continues to get better. He's totally healed from the back surgery he had in the beginning of the season, as he's skating and dominating top players with his defensive prowess.
6. NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire. ... pff!
7. I love Mike Emrick and know he is the national voice of hockey (look at his resume), but I would love to see a cameo from Pat Foley in the Cup Finals. NBC, take note.
8. Chicago's Johnny Toews did the right thing by not touching the Clarence Campbell Trophy (awarded to the Western Conference champs). Well played captain, my captain.
9. We have a Captain Serious, and it appears the Blackhawks Dustin Byfuglien has earned the title of Captain Clutch.
Well, enjoy the breather while Montreal and Philly battle it out for the last spot in the Cup Final, because the Chicago Blackhawks and the Stanley Cup Finals appear to be headed for a breathtaking ride.
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