Look, pretty much everybody expected the Chicago Blackhawks to beat the Minnesota Wild in their second round matchup. The talent disparity was clear, and most folks figured the Wild were already playing with house money after upsetting the Avalanche in round one. Indeed, the Blackhawks did end up eliminating the Wild, but perhaps it was not quite the walk through the park that some expected.
Sure, at first, it did actually seem like Chicago was going to breeze past Minnesota. They won the first two games of the series by three goals. However, things changed once the teams turned up in Minnesota. The Wild very much handled their business at home to tie the series, and suddenly things got interested. Chicago eked out game five, and then did the same in game six, beating the Wild 2-1 in overtime thanks to Patrick Kane. Talent and experience won out, as it often does, but Minnesota went down fighting.
This Chicago team is just so good. They are deep on offense and defense, and when Corey Crawford is playing well, as he has done this postseason by and large, they are hard to beat. They have a very real chance of repeating as champions. I'll favor them over either Anaheim or Los Angeles. They are healthy, and even with this tough series, they have probably been tested a bit less than either of their opponents, and they are definitely more stable than the Ducks, although John Gibson has looked good so far. That's for another day, however.
The Wild probably aren't satisfied with merely challenging the Blackhawks, because elimination is elimination, but this was another step forward for the team. Last year, they got into the playoffs. They year, they won a round, and put the pressure on the defending champs. They had issues in net, but Ilyz Bryzgalov stepped in admirably, even if his performance was uneven. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are paying off, and the young talent is finally coming around. I don't expect Minnesota to take a step back, although the West is tough. I mean, you have to play a team like Chicago just to try and get into the Western Conference Finals, and sometimes you just aren't quite ready for that.