CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Chicago Blackhawks roared into the Western Conference finals with a 7-5 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Monday, while the Washington Capitals forced a series decider against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the East.
Patrick Kane scored a hat-trick and Jonathan Toews netted twice as the Blackhawks took the best-of-seven series 4-2 to reach their first conference finals since 1995.
“Winning this series was like getting our first job after graduation,” the 19-year-old Kane told reporters.
Chicago will meet the winner of the Detroit-Anaheim series for the right to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. The defending champion Red Wings lead the Ducks 3-2.
“They (the Blackhawks) are playing beyond their years with the amount of composure, intelligence and maturity they have displayed this playoff season,” said Chicago General Manager Dale Tallon. “They’re for real.”
Toews gave Chicago a 6-5 lead with his fourth goal of the playoffs on a power play 49 seconds after Kane had tied the score 13 minutes into an explosive third period.
Kane then added an insurance goal with 3:43 to play, the sixth goal of the period. He also scored in the first period.
Daniel Sedin scored twice for Vancouver.
In Pittsburgh, Washington’s David Steckel scored six minutes into overtime to level their Eastern Conference semi-final series at 3-3 and set up a tantalizing Game Seven.
Viktor Kozlov had two goals and Alex Ovechkin three assists for the Capitals, who host the series decider on Wednesday.
Steckel tipped a pass from Brooks Laich past Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury for the winner.
“Matt (Bradley) made a great play on the wall to Brooksie (Laich),” Steckel told reporters.
“Like the other goals, it’s about getting shots to the net and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“It’s a great win, especially on the road,” he added. “This is all we could ask for.”
Washington netminder Simeon Varlamov made 38 saves, stopping 17-of-18 shots in the first period.
Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby sent the game into overtime with his 10th goal of the postseason, a backhander with 4:18 remaining in regulation. It came on Evgeni Malkin’s third assist of the game.
The Penguins’ Bill Guerin had the only goal of the first period off an assist by Crosby.
“We had a good period, 18 shots,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
“To their credit they kept it at one, partially due to their defensemen, partially due to their goaltending and then they were able to bounce back in the second and the game kind of seesawed back and forth.”
The teams were level at 2-2 after the second period when Kozlov and Tomas Fleischmann scored for Washington and Mark Eaton added a power-play goal for Pittsburgh.
A busy third period saw two goals by each team.
Kris Letang scored on a power play for the Penguins before Laich and Kozlov tallied for the Capitals.
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by John O'Brien and Peter Rutherford