The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t just win Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals on Saturday; they dominated. The Blackhawks raced out to a 4-0 lead over the Ducks and won, 5-3, in Anaheim to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in six years.
How did they do it?
“Everyone fights to play their game, and whoever can impose their will on the other team is probably going to have success – and that’s what happened,” Fox Sports West NHL analyst Jim Fox said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Chicago came out and they just attacked and attacked and kept going at it, kept playing with a pace. They dictated the tempo of the game. Anaheim was talking all series long about taking the body and it’s that old story: You can’t hit what you can’t catch, and that was probably the story in Game 7. Chicago skates fast, but they also play fast – and when they’re doing both at the same time, (they’re) tough to beat.”
The Blackhawks got another clutch performance from Jonathan Toews, who scored two first-period goals to set the tone and lead his team to victory.
“I think everyone who’s around him or has been around him understands that he does have another level and that level of intensity,” Fox said. “There’s been talk this year that he’s backed off a little bit and he can joke around a little bit more. But I think in certain situations like we saw in Game 6 and Game 7, he can also clamp down and turn it on like he is known to do. That’s what it is. It’s something that not everyone has inside of them. When you have it like a Jonathan Toews, then you have to bring it. There’s no question he brings it. It’s to the point now where his teammates expect it. That’s something very positive to look forward to if you’re a Chicago Blackhawk. I think it’s just as simple as that. I think there’s a skill level there that’s unquestioned, but there’s also the ability to forget what’s going on anywhere else and just 100 percent focus on the situation – and Jonathan Toews can do that.”
Chicago will face Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning outlasted the Rangers in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, winning three games on the road, including Game 7.
Fox sees a lot of similarities between the Blackhawks and Lightning: they both love to push the tempo, they both love to run and gun, and both have extremely talented goalies who still play with uncertainty at times. But Fox, who called Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook the best defensive pairing in hockey, believes the Blackhawks have a big advantage in one key area: experience.
“I don’t think there’s any question there,” Fox said. “I think a lot of people feel that’s the reason that Chicago beat the Ducks in Game 6 and Game 7 because of that experience. It’s something that, they’re looking around the room – they trust every guy. They look them right in the eyes and they know they’ve done it before, so they believe they can do it again.”
Fox believes they will. He’s picking the Blackhawks to win the series – in possibly as few as five games.
Game 1 is Wednesday in Tampa Bay at 8 p.m. ET.