Believe it, the Hawks have arrived
CHICAGO -- The scene was surreal. Two young, exhausted stars looking up to the NHL's all-time winningest coach and sharing a moment.
Perhaps they were thinking, "Is all this really happening?"
On a night in the NHL when Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby decided six were not enough in one of the league's most exciting playoff series in recent memory, Kane, Toews and the Hawks decided to go seven -- on Roberto Luongo.
The Hawks' two poster boys combined for five goals and an assist in a 7-5 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Monday, wrapping up the series in six games and making it worth turning the channel after Washington's overtime victory across the dial.
Take a bow, NHL, this might have been your finest five hours in who knows how long.
"As hockey fans, we are witnessing a special era right now," Hawks GM Dale Tallon said after his young team clinched the Hawks' first trip to the Western Conference finals since 1995. "You look at Crosby and Ovechkin and [Nicklas] Backstrom and all these guys over in that series, and obviously we get to watch the great young players on our team. We are fortunate to be witnessing this right now. There's some great young players in our game."
Crosby and Ovechkin, no doubt, are staging the best series of the playoffs. But we're sorry, the best game of the postseason was played Monday night at a United Center that surprisingly still has a roof attached to it.
"I look forward to the roof coming off one day," said Tallon, whose team broke a franchise record for yearlong attendance Monday night with 1,006,920 through the turnstiles.
If and when a new Stanley Cup banner hangs from the rafters here in the next few seasons, they'll point to this game as a coming-out moment. And a wild one at that.
Toews scored on the power play 10:17 into the second period to give the Hawks a 3-1 lead. But Vancouver teammates Daniel Sedin and Shane O'Brien scored before the end of the middle period to tie it at 3. And we thought that was fun.
The third period? Count 'em -- one, two, three, four, five, six goals!
Daniel Sedin seemingly had Vancouver up for good at 5-4 with a top-corner shot on the power play at 12:15. Nope. Kane, then Toews, then Kane again. Make it 7-5, and hope you brought your ear plugs.
"Probably one of the most amazing ones," said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, who has played and coached in the NHL most of his adult life. "Tonight was as wild a period as I've ever seen.
"It's hard on the system."
But easy on the eyes, for fans. The Hawks are playing sexy hockey, and that's the best part of their surprising playoff run. This is what sells tickets.
"This team can play any style it wants," said Tallon. "If you want to play tough against us, we can do that. If you want to play up-tempo, we can do that. I think people still underestimate the resilience of these players in this dressing room."
But seriously, the Western Conference finals? Aren't these Hawks too young to make it this far?
"I'm not saying experience is overrated, but the fact is, we're not just a young team, we're a good team," said young star blueliner Duncan Keith.
Still, we couldn't find one single Hawks player who admitted to believing a conference finals berth was even possible had he been asked back in September.
"Not a chance, I'm sorry to say," said Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell. "Our goal was just to make the playoffs. But now that we're here, we know we've got more to accomplish here."
"I would have never imagined this a year ago," added Keith. "But as the season went on, something magical started to happen."
If the hockey gods continue to smile on us, we'll get Chicago and Detroit in the Western Conference finals. Anyone feel like an Original Six/old Norris Division tilt?
On a magical night in Chicago, there was indeed a tough-luck loser. The Vancouver Canucks were 2:44 away from going up 3-1 in this series last week. Then, they lost Game 4 that night in overtime, Game 5 on a late goal and Game 6 in dramatic fashion.
Mats Sundin seemed to have watery eyes on the Canucks' bench after the final buzzer, perhaps contemplating what may have been his last game in a stellar career. Luongo, who had never given up seven goals as a Canuck, lasted only three postgame questions with the media before breaking into tears and walking away.
"I let my teammates down tonight," Luongo said. "That's something that is going to take a while to get over. I let in seven goals. I don't think that I can be satisfied with my own performance."
And who knows what the future holds for this Canucks team. The Sedin twins are unrestricted free agents July 1, and so is veteran blueliner Mattias Ohlund. And Luongo, with one year left on his deal, will no doubt be approached about an extension; if the answer is no, perhaps he will be shopped.
No matter what happens, the Canucks will have a long summer to digest what could have been. They were favored to win against a young, less experienced team.
"I don't think in this series we played any games [at] our best," said Ohlund. "That is the most frustrating thing. We have a great team in here. Obviously we think we can do better."
Maybe the Canucks could have played better, or maybe they just ran into a rising Western Conference powerhouse that would not be denied. No matter what it says on their birth certificates.
Hello, hockey world, the Hawks are here.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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