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Musick: Hawks emerge bruised, battered and beaming

Published: Sunday, April 27, 2014 7:25 p.m. CDT • Updated: Sunday, April 27, 2014 11:35 p.m. CDT
Caption
The Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp scores against St. Louis goalie Ryan Miller during the third period in Game 6 of a first-round playoff series Sunday at the United Center. The Hawks won, 5-1, to eliminate the Blues. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

CHICAGO – Andrew Shaw wore a swollen right eye.

“[Blues forward Steve] Ott finishing his hit,” Shaw said with a shrug. “That’s all.”

Patrick Sharp wore a slash mark across the bottom of his handsome face.

“Right in the chin,” Sharp said.

Duncan Keith wore a dark red scar across the inside of his right leg.

“I’ve got a few cuts and scrapes,” Keith said. “That’s playoff hockey.”

As for Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, well, no obvious wounds were visible. But they certainly existed Sunday after the Hawks knocked out the St. Louis Blues with a 5-1 win in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.

Spill the beans, captain.

What was your best souvenir from the series? Any cuts, bruises, scrapes to show off?

“No,” Toews said with a sly grin. “None that I want to talk about.”

Got it. The Hawks’ captain has zero bumps and bruises, everybody. (Wink, wink.)

What a game. What a series. What a sport.

The Hawks erased a 2-0 series deficit to win four consecutive games against the Blues, who now will chase birdies and eagles while their division rivals continue to chase another Stanley Cup championship. Next up for the Hawks will be whichever team wins the series between the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild.

“[We’re going to] get some couch time and relax,” Hawks forward Bryan Bickell said, “and watch the games and see who we play.”

The Hawks have earned some couch time. For that matter, I think all of us have.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville gave his players Monday and Tuesday off as a reward for closing out the series and avoiding a winner-take-all Game 7 melee in St. Louis. The Hawks will return to practice Wednesday to prepare for their next opponent.

“It’s a long battle in this series,” said Quenneville, whose sleeves were rolled up as if he had just finished chopping wood in the backyard. “But I think the intensity and emotion, getting through this first round, was healthy for our team.”

Here’s to a healthy outcome.

Both of the Hawks’ possible semifinal opponents are talented, especially the Avalanche. But none will match the big muscles and bare-knuckles aggression of the Blues, who stapled the Hawks to the boards whenever they had an opportunity.

Take Game 6, for example. At various points of the game, Ott slammed into Toews’ left shoulder and crunched the captain against the sideboards, pounced on top of Toews in front of the Blues’ net and hip-checked Toews moments after his goal.

“It doesn’t get any more difficult than that, with the physicality of the series, the things that happened the first couple games,” Toews said. “I think there’s maybe some hatred between those two teams. I think you always see those storylines develop throughout a series, but probably especially in this one.”

Give credit to the Hawks, then, for keeping their composure in all except for Game 2. Rather than turn the series into a tough guy convention, the Hawks played between the whistles and focused on beating the Blues with speed and skill.

The strategy worked.

After the final horn sounded and the Blues lined up to shake hands, it looked as if the Hawks had socked them right in the gut.

“This was six games, and it felt like nine games for both teams,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I’m sure Joel feels the same way. It was a long, hard-fought series, and both teams poured a lot into it.”

But only one team could win the series, and it was the same team that is aiming for its third Stanley Cup championship in five seasons.

Get ready for more cuts, scrapes and bruises.

“I love this,” Shaw said with a big smile beneath that swollen right eye. “I look forward to this all year. If we could just play playoffs all year, I’d love that.”

• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at tmusick@shawmedia.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.

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