The Chicago Blackhawks set records and led the NHL standings from start to finish during the regular season, so it would have required a disaster or a miracle for the Minnesota Wild to upset them in the first round. With no acts of god forthcoming, the 'Hawks eliminated the Wild with a 5-1 victory in Game 5.
The Blackhawks never trailed on Thursday night, and Minnesota's only real push took place in the first period when the teams were tied in shots 10-10. But Marian Hossa opened scoring with a goal at 15:39 of the first period, and the 'Hawks extended that to 3-0 before the second period was seven minutes old.
Josh Harding started Game 5 after leaving the previous game with an injury, and whether still hurt or rusty, he did handle his return to the lineup well. He gave up this soft wraparound to Marcus Krueger...
...and this soft rebound goal to Hossa:
Harding was pulled at 6:26 of the second period after that goal, Hossa's second of the night.
Minnesota avoided giving Corey Crawford another easy shutout when Torrey Mitchell scored at 10:11 of the second period, but that was the end of the Wild's offense. Andrew Shaw scored 35 seconds later to restore Chicago's three-goal lead. Patrick Sharp piled on in the third period with his fifth goal of the series.
That's right: The entire Minnesota team outscored Sharp in this series 7-5. (They outscored Patrick Kane 7-0 though. The 'Hawks star has yet to score in these playoffs.)
With the Wild easily dispatched, Chicago now awaits its second-round opponent. That will be either the San Jose Sharks, who swept the Vancouver Canucks, or the Detroit Red Wings if they come back in their series with the Anaheim Ducks.
Before the game, we considered three questions. Now we have answers:
Will Josh Harding's return in goal for Minnesota make a difference?
If it did, it wasn't the right one. Harding didn't look good on at least two of the three goals allowed.
Can Patrick Sharp keep scoring at a goal-a-game pace?
Oh yes he can. In fact, with Kane not scoring any goals and Jonathan Toews only picking up two assists in this series, both in Game 5, Sharp and Hossa's goals were a strong reminder that the Chicago offense is loaded and deep.
Has Corey Crawford earned the starting job for the rest of the playoffs?
This one is difficult to answer without him actually being tested. The Wild did that for, at best, a period in Game 5, but generally each game of this series was too easy for Crawford. He faced just 22 shots in Game 5.