(Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune)

(Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune)

How relieving was it to witness a handshake line you knew wouldn’t be the last of the Blackhawks’ postseason?

For the first time since their Stanley Cup run in 2010, the ‘Hawks are headed to the Western Conference semifinals after eliminating the Minnesota Wild with Thursday’s 5-1 victory at the United Center. And even though there are plenty of things that need to be improved and refined before the second-round series with either Detroit or San Jose, the rather quick series we all expected should give the ‘Hawks some time to get everything together.

Getting this out of the way quickly, it sucked to see Josh Harding’s season end the way it did. He labored through all or part of five games while battling MS, and that’s enough for me to call him an inspiration. To get chased in an elimination game had to sting. Poor guy.

To the more exciting stuff, Jonathan Toews finally got on the score sheet after a nifty pass to Marian Hossa helped open the scoring then later adding an assist on Patrick Sharp’s power-play goal. The top line of Toews, Hossa and¬†Brandon Saad entered Thursday with three combined points in the series – all from Hossa – but totaled six in Game 5 alone.

And it was a great thing those guys showed up because the second line was hamstrung once again by the ineffectiveness of Michal Handzus, who won just 41.8 percent of his draws in the series. Maybe Q considered replacing him with Marcus Kruger, but he lost 12 of his 15 faceoffs Thursday and won 40.9 percent throughout the series. Dave Bolland should be back for the second round, but I wouldn’t exactly consider him an upgrade given his shitty season that saw him win 46.1 percent at the dot in 35 games. I’m just going to say this once: The Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup with Sharp as their second-line center. OK, that’s it. Won’t say it again.

And how about that power play, eh? Fuck me. The ‘Hawks finished 2 for 13 in the series thanks to Sharp’s 5-on-3 goal, but luckily they killed off all 17 of Minnesota’s chances. It still baffles me how a PP so deep with talent can’t score, and guys like Michael Frolik and Kruger are the catalysts for one of the best kills in the NHL. It would be nice to see the power play giving the special teams units more balance in Round 2.

I know to this point I’ve pretty much been Buzz Killington, but we all knew the ‘Hawks have some deficiencies moving forward. And since we’re all looking at the big picture – in other words, Stanley Cup or bust – I’m not going to pat everyone on the wiener and celebrate a first-round win against an overmatched opponent. But how about some good?

Corey Crawford. I want to know how many people chanting “Cor-ey! Cor-ey!” at the UC were earlier this season demanding he be benched permanently in favor of Ray Emery. There were way too many of those meatballs all season, and Crawford basically stuck it right up their asses in this series. It had to be a great moment for Crawford and another boost to the confidence of a goaltender who continues selling more people on his potential to lead these ‘Hawks to a Cup.

Oh, and Hossa. Fuck, and yes.

All right, Boxing time. Right-click the image, then click ‘view’ to enlarge…

Boxing-Round 1-Game 5-Hawks 5-Wild 1