ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Corey Crawford made 34 saves, Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, and the Chicago Blackhawks advanced to the Western Conference finals with a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night for a four-game sweep.
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Corey Crawford and the Chicago Blackhawks controlled this second-round series from start to finish, except for a frenzied attempt by the Minnesota Wild to send Game 4 into overtime.
Crawford made 34 saves, Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, and the Blackhawks advanced to the Western Conference finals for the fifth time in seven years with a 4-3 victory over the Wild on Thursday night.
“It may have looked a little hectic, but I think our team remained calm,” left wing Patrick Sharp said, “and we did what we had to do.”
The Wild never led in the series, but they had a big rally after falling behind 4-1 on Marian Hossa’s short-handed, empty-net goal with 3:07 left. Devan Dubnyk, who made 21 saves to cap a remarkable run for the Wild since arriving in a season-saving mid-January trade, was pulled for most of the last four minutes.
View galleryChicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell, top right, …
Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell, top right, and Blackhawks center Brad Richards, bottom r …
Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter scored with 2:18 and 1:27 remaining to give the Wild one last chance, but the final few whacks were either wide or turned aside by Crawford, who stopped 124 of 131 shots in the four games for a robust .947 save percentage. The Blackhawks improved to 30-0, including 5-0 in this postseason, when leading after two periods.
“They want to be successful. They want to find ways to win, and in the end they want to be champions,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said, praising the resolve of his players over that final frantic sequence.
Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw also scored for the Blackhawks, who were down to five defensemen after a serious injury to veteran Michal Roszival. Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell had two assists apiece, and Chicago eliminated Minnesota from the playoffs for the third straight year, winning 12 of the 15 games.
Dubnyk said he felt “sick” about it.
“To be with the group that we have, to finish it that way, it just doesn’t feel right,” he said.
View galleryChicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4), …
Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4), of Sweden, slams Minnesota Wild left wing Zach …
The Blackhawks have scored 12 times in the first period in 10 games this postseason. They’re 5-1 when scoring first.
“We don’t think about being special,” Kane said. “If we have a good game the game before, we want to be even better. If we have a bad game, we want to wipe the slate clean and not feel sorry for ourselves, come back, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The Blackhawks showed their deft finishing touch throughout the series, making so many of their prime opportunities count. The Wild simply didn’t, though they couldn’t help but shake their heads about some of the bad bounces against them.
Seabrook gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead with his shot off Wild defenseman Marco Scandella’s shin and into the upper corner of the net.
Toews took the game’s first penalty, hooking early in the second period, and the Wild just missed several chances to score on the power play. Defenseman Matt Dumba and center Mikael Granlund took the place of the struggling Pominville and Thomas Vanek on the first unit.
View galleryChicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, right, deflects …
Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, right, deflects a shot by Minnesota Wild center Jordan Sch …
Soon after Toews left the box, he picked up the puck and threaded a perfect pass to a streaking Marcus Kruger, who drew a hooking call on Nino Niederreiter. The Blackhawks scored on their power play when Shaw knocked a loose puck between Dubnyk’s pads.
“We had a great run, and obviously that’s not the way we wanted it to end,” said Vanek, who was dropped down to the third line. “They were tight games, and their scorers scored when they needed to, timely goals. I didn’t.”
Vanek had a breakaway when Rozsival lost his balance and fell backward while badly injuring his left leg, but Crawford brushed Vanek’s shot aside with his blocker. Rozsival was helped off the ice, his left leg hanging limp without any weight on it.
Erik Haula scored in the second period to pull the Wild within 2-1, his speed and energy on the fourth line providing a bright spot for the Wild. That was the first goal by a Wild forward in a stretch of 177 minutes and 11 seconds since the middle of the second period of Game 1. Dumba scored in Game 2, the only other goal during that stretch as Crawford gained more and more confidence by the shot.
“You feel it’s a waste of a year, because we had a chance and we were playing some good hockey coming into the postseason and we proved it in the first round,” Pominville said, reflecting on the six-game victory over Central Division champion St. Louis. “But it wasn’t good enough in the second.”
NOTES: This was the first sweep by the Blackhawks since the Western Conference finals in 2010 against San Jose. … Haula had four goals and three assists for the Wild in 13 playoff games last year. This was his first score since Feb. 28.
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Chicago Cubs have activated right-hander Justin Grimm from the 15-day disabled list and recalled outfielder Matt Szczur from Triple-A Iowa.
CHICAGO (AP) — There was a time when Jimmy Butler was kicked out of his home as a teenager with no place to go. He has come a long way since then.
The Chicago Bulls guard was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player on Thursday after making his first All-Star team and averaging a career high in scoring.
“I felt like at any level I was at, whether it be junior college or Marquette, I don’t think I was supposed to be there,” Butler said. “Somehow, some way, with the people that were in my corner, I found a way to get there.”
The 25-year-old Butler received 92 of 129 first-place votes and 535 total points from a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters. Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors was second (11 first-place votes, 200 points) and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz finished third (12, 189).
“It’s a testament to his work ethic and what he’s done,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Each year, he’s gotten a lot better. I think it’s being recognized by a lot of people now. Where he is today, in comparing that to where he was four years ago, he’s made a gigantic jump.”
That the award went to Butler is hardly a surprise given the improvement he showed while helping the Bulls fight through injuries to win 50 games.
View galleryCleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives …
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives against Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) d …
“I’m very happy for him,” the Bulls’ Joakim Noah said. “Very well deserved. Somebody that’s worked extremely hard. I’m happy for Jimmy.”
In his fourth season, the 6-7 guard went from averaging 13.1 to 20 points. His shooting improved from 39.7 to 46.2 percent, his rebounding jumped from 4.9 to 5.8 and his assists increased from 2.6 to 3.3 per game.
Butler is also in line for a huge payday as a restricted free agent after he and the Bulls were unable to agree to a contract extension before the season. He said at the time he was betting on himself, and it sure looks like he hit the jackpot.
Butler, however, called it “a tie” Thursday and insisted, “We both won.” He also said he has no plans to leave Chicago, where the Bulls are tied 1-1 with Cleveland in their second-round playoff series. Game 3 is Friday night.
“I think this is a place for me,” Butler said. “I love playing with the guys we have. They continue to bring in great, high-character guys that fit the team role. I love it here.”
View galleryChicago Bulls' Jimmy Butler, bottom, scores in …
Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler, bottom, scores in front of Cleveland Cavaliers’ James Jones dur …
Butler thanked his family, his brothers, his teammates, current and former coaches and team management. He mentioned how former teammate Luol Deng helped him adjust to the NBA, as well as Bulls assistant Adrian Griffin.
The award is the next step in a remarkable climb from homelessness as a teen to stardom in the NBA.
Butler got kicked out of his house by his mother when he was 13, in Tomball, Texas, and his father had been out of his life since he was a baby. At the time, Butler had no money and nowhere to go.
He would stay with friends for a few weeks and then move on to another one looking for a place to stay. He eventually settled in with the Lambert family and became a star at Tomball High. He was barely recruited, but Tyler Junior College coach Mike Marquis gave him an opportunity.
“Coach Mike Marquis was seeing something in myself that I didn’t see at that age,” Butler said.
He also mentioned the work ethic then-coach Buzz Williams instilled in him at Marquette. Butler spent three years there before getting drafted with the 30th pick by the Bulls in 2011.
“Without Buzz constantly challenging me and pushing me to be great, I don’t think I’d be standing here,” he said.
He played little as a rookie but started to show some promise in his second year. The past two seasons, he has averaged 38.7 minutes. And the big jump this year comes after a grueling offseason.
Butler worked out three times a day in Houston, from morning to night with breaks for meals and a nap. He and some friends also rented a house with no cable or Internet service, choosing to focus on basketball.
“What we see is a great will and determination that Jimmy has, an outstanding work ethic and an inner drive to succeed that he comes with each and every day,” general manager Gar Forman said. “You look back at Jimmy’s story and it really is amazing that we’re here today.”