Myers: Wild have witnessed Kane's evolution from prospect to force
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - On a fall night in 2007, in the Minnesota Wild's home opener for the only season thus far that's ended with them hoisting a championship banner (for winning the now-defunct Northwest Division in 2007-08), the fans inside Xcel Energy Center got a glimpse of hockey's future.
On the ice for Chicago in a mostly uninteresting 1-0 Wild win was an 18-year-old rookie playing his first NHL game. Patrick Kane, who had been the first overall pick in that summer's draft, did nothing notable in his initial outing in a Chicago sweater. That was an anomaly.
Just two seasons later, he scored in overtime in Philadelphia to win Chicago's first Stanley Cup in nearly 50 years. On Tuesday night, back inside the X, Kane proved that beyond the third period, in the playoffs, with his opponent facing elimination, he is the most feared player in pro hockey.
"I told him before the period, half-jokingly, half serious, that it's his time to shine and he finds a way to score the winning goal," said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who first played in St. Paul as a collegian during his two seasons at North Dakota. "We'll be happy to matter who scores it but it's good for him and amazing to see what he's done in past years in overtime situations."
And true to the sometimes-odd nature of hockey, on a night in which the Wild dominated for long stretches, putting together pretty play after pretty play only to be thwarted by goalie Corey Crawford, it was an ugly, goofy play that ended the game, the series, and the season for Minnesota.
"They rimmed it in, I heard hit the stanchion," said Erik Haula, who scored the final two goals of the Wild's season. "Next thing I see, it's on Kane's tape and he goes backhand shot, right under the bar. I knew right away it was in. I just can't believe that's how it ends."
Although if you've watched Chicago build a budding dynasty over the past four years, that's exactly how you'd expect it to end. It's completely in Kane's nature to take a raucous crowd on the road and silence them with a flick of the puck.
"It was a weird feeling tonight because at first I didn't know if it was in," Kane said, comparing it to his heroics in the Flyers home rink four years ago. "The first one, against Philly, I knew it was in. Tonight I didn't really know but when you turn around and see the puck in the net, it's a good feeling. It's exciting to be in on those goals and have something to do with a big win like this."
The Wild made a huge step forward this season, and especially in the last two weeks, getting out of the first round for just the second time in franchise history, and giving the Blackhawks a handful in round two. In that they saw promise of what they may be next year, or in the next few years, while their window of opportunity is open. In late April, they rallied from a big deficit to suddenly, dramatically end Colorado's season.
But in the Blackhawks generally, and in Kane specifically, the Wild saw where they need to be and who they need to emulate if they want to be the ones ending an opponent's season in May and June.