ANAHEIM, Calif. — Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks dealt with Game 7 pressure in the same way they’ve handled just about everything during their incredible seven-year playoff run.
And after ending a remarkable Western Conference finals with a blowout victory, the Blackhawks get another chance to raise the Stanley Cup.
Toews scored two goals in the opening minutes, Corey Crawford made 35 saves and Chicago roared into the Stanley Cup Finals with a 5-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night.
Brandon Saad, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook also scored for the Blackhawks, who will play for their third NHL championship in six seasons when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning beginning Wednesday night in Florida.
After six games of tense hockey in an extraordinary series, Game 7 was an incongruous rout. Toews was responsible for it, burnishing his reputation for big-game brilliance with a rebound goal just 2:23 in and another power-play score before 12 minutes elapsed.
“There was no easy games,” Toews said. “There was nothing given to us. There was no moments in this series were there any lulls, where we felt Anaheim maybe didn’t play their best hockey and we got away with it. We felt like we had to earn everything against that team. That was an incredible test for both teams.”
Anaheim lost a Game 7 at home for the third straight season. The Ducks blew a 3-2 series lead each time, compounding the heartbreak for a talented team that hasn’t developed the post-season poise possessed by Chicago and other champions.
“We took another step this year, going a round farther, but ultimately that Game 7 we’ve got to be able to finish,” Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. “They played better than us tonight. I’m not telling you they are a better team than us. We didn’t do enough to win.”
The Blackhawks led 4-0 before Ryan Kesler scored late in the second period for the Ducks. Corey Perry scored for Anaheim with 8:24 to play, but Seabrook scored on a power play shortly afterward.
Patrick Kane had three assists for Chicago, which won three of the series’ final four games to seize another Western Conference title — although the Blackhawks refused to touch the Campbell Bowl during an awkward postgame ceremony punctuated by fans throwing orange towels on the ice.
The Blackhawks have defied conventional NHL parity to reach three Stanley Cup Finals and five conference finals in a seven-year stretch under coach Joel Quenneville. That’s because their stars are unmatched: From Toews and Kane to Seabrook and Duncan Keith, nobody knows how to win like Chicago.
The Blackhawks bounced back this season after their Game 7 loss to the Kings in last spring’s conference finals. Chicago outlasted Nashville and swept Minnesota this spring before outlasting Anaheim in the franchises’ first playoff meeting.
“We’ve had some good accomplishments in here and some things to be proud of,” Kane said. “But at the same time, who knows if these opportunities are going to come around this often? We thought we were right there last year, but we didn’t get the job done, so it’s great to come back a year later and have that same opportunity and capitalize on it.”
Keith had two assists while completing the series with a jaw-dropping 230 minutes, 48 seconds of ice time for a team largely relying on four defencemen.
Brad Richards, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2004 with Tampa Bay, had two assists for Chicago while improving to 8-0 in Game 7s in his NHL career.
Three days after Chicago staved off elimination with a 5-2 win at home, Toews somehow managed to top his last appearance at Honda Center. He tied Game 5 on Monday with two electrifying goals in the final minutes before Anaheim won in overtime.
“He’s an amazing hockey player,” Quenneville said of Toews. “He just seems to excel in big moments, big stages, and shows he’s as good a leader as in any sport.”
Captain Serious showed how much he thought of Game 7 pressure when he scored just 2:23 in. Niklas Hjalmarsson’s long shot rebounded straight to Toews, who scored his fourth goal of the series when the Ducks inexplicably failed to mark him.
Anaheim immediately showed tension in its game, perhaps remembering its three-goal first period deficit in a Game 7 loss to the Los Angeles Kings last spring. After Jakob Silfverberg took a hooking penalty midway through the period, Toews capitalized with a high shot through traffic, getting it through Saad’s screen in front.
Frederik Andersen made 21 saves for the Ducks, giving up three goals on Chicago’s first seven shots.
The collapse came abruptly for Anaheim, which went a record-tying 14 games into the post-season without a regulation defeat until losing the last two games by a combined 10-5. Matt Beleskey scored a power-play goal in the final minute for the Ducks, who finished one game shy of their first Stanley Cup Finals since 2007.
“Last year was a tough loss, (and) this year was even worse,” Ducks forward Patrick Maroon said. “We’re one game away. We had them on the ropes. We’re going up 3-2 in their barn. You saw what happened there. Then we’re looking better because we have home-ice advantage and can play in front of our fans, and … I don’t know. I have no words.”
NOTES: Getzlaf and Francois Beauchemin both played in their 97th post-season game with the Ducks, surpassing Teemu Selanne’s franchise record. … Tomas Fleischmann returned to Anaheim’s lineup, and Emerson Etem was scratched. … Chicago improved to 32-0 this season when leading after two periods.
Greg Beacham, The Associated Press