There was no hoopla or grand celebration Sunday at the United Center after the Chicago Blackhawks swept away the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference finals to advance to the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1992.
In fact, captain Jonathan Toews avoided all contact with the Clarence Campbell Bowl, which goes to the West playoff champ.
The Blackhawks captain posed for a picture, but never touched it and left the trophy sitting on a table at centre ice at the United Centre.
"That's not the won we want to win," Toews said. "They gave us hats tonight so we'll go home with those and be happy about that. We're after something bigger and better, but we still have to win four more games to get that."
Chicago's come-from-behind 4-2 win over the Sharks completed a sweep of the Western Conference regular season champs.
The Blackhawks will play either Philadelphia or Montreal in the Cup finals in a series likely to start later this week in Chicago.
"This is every kid's dream who plays hockey," Patrick Kane said. "You don't play for hockey for anything else. You don't play hockey for the money or whatever it may be, for the chicks, for whatever.
"Those are always nice things to have on the side, but I think you always play to get to this goal and prove yourself as a player, as a team like we've done this year, and play for the ultimate prize. I can't tell you how excited I am from just winning games. They're the most exciting games I've been a part of."
The Blackhawks' flare for the dramatic was out there for everyone to see again as Dustin Byfuglien's power-play goal with 5:55 to play snapped a 2-2 tie.
Things didn't look good for the Blackhawks earlier, however, as they fell behind 2-0 midway through the second period and were down two key players in defenceman Duncan Keith and winger Andrew Ladd.
Ladd left in the first period with an undisclosed injury while Keith missed about six minutes in the second period after the puck hit him in the mouth off the stick of Patrick Marleau and knocked out seven teeth.
Keith came back moments later to provide a lift and assisted on Dave Bolland's tying goal with 1:22 left in the second period.
"That just shows how much he wants to win," Toews said.
Byfuglien's game-winner was his third of the four-game series and eighth of the playoffs. The games were close, but in the end Antti Niemi outplayed Evgeni Nabokov in goal and the Blackhawks' depth was too much for the Sharks, who got no goals and a combined three assists from Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley.
"You've got to give Chicago credit, that's a helluva a team," Shark coach Todd McLellan said. "They seemed very destined right now. They have a goaltender that's on fire. They're getting scoring, not necessarily from their superstars, I mean that with all due respect to the Byfugliens, the Bollands, those types of players. They're doing the things they need to do to win.
"They certainly deserved the series. I thought we played hard with them. We competed with them. You know, we battled. We were in every minute of every game, but we were the second-place team."
Flyers or Canadiens?
The Blackhawks say they don't care which team they play in the final. Philadelphia leads the Eastern Conference finals 3-1 with Game 5 Monday night at the Wachovia Centre.
"To be honest with you, we're going to enjoy our victory, we're the Western Conference champions and let them figure out who's going to be playing us," Blackhawks centre John Madden said.
"Obviously we'll be watching the game. We'll pick up as much as we can and see who it is."
The Flyers were the seventh seed in the East and the Canadiens the eighth, but both teams have found their games in the playoffs. The Flyers, who won in a shootout against the Rangers on the final day of the regular season to even make the playoffs, are big and physical led by defenceman Chris Pronger, who Blackhawks fans remember well from his days in St. Louis, Edmonton and Anaheim.
"They were picked to do real well and struggled a lot of the season," Blackhawks defenceman Brian Campbell said of the Flyers. "The thing is they've turned it on now and found their chemistry."
Not only did the Flyers sneak into the playoffs, they rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the second round to stun the Bruins, winning Game 7 in Boston after falling behind 3-0.
"I think it's a remarkable story," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "They're on life support the last game of the year, in the Boston series as well. They found a way to get themselves where they were playing as well as they played at any stretch this year. They got healthy."
Bolland vs. Thornton
The matchup Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wanted all along against the Sharks paid off big time. Not only did Dave Bolland have two clutch goals and an assist on Byfuglien's Game 3 overtime winner, he held Sharks No. 1 centre Joe Thornton to one assist.
"I thought Bolland had a great series," Quenneville said. "I think one thing with him, whether he's underrated or underappreciated, I think we have a real good sense of his value to our team. You trust him [with] the top matchups. "I think defensively, you know he's always surrounding the puck, around the play. Offensively, I think that's where he can chip in and be the difference. When you make plays against top players, sometimes you get some nice chances along the way."
Thornton was minus-5 in the series as well and finished the playoffs minus-11 with 12 points in 15 games.
Shark coach Todd McLellan said Dany Heatley played the series with a bad groin injury. Heatley, a 39-goal scorer during the regular season, had no goals and two assists and was minus-4. "
Dany Heatley had a very bad groin injury in the Colorado series," McLellan said. "He really gutted it out. In my opinion, I don't think he's ever got back to where he needed to be skating-wise. I think it was evident.
"You know, he's a pretty noble guy. He's going to tell you he's pretty close to being good, but he never really got back to where he needed to be."