If we’ve learned anything over the last two seasons, it’s that in the Stanley Cup playoffs the first round can be the most dangerous.
Two years ago, the Blackhawks finished eighth in the Western Conference and took Vancouver to overtime in the seventh game before losing on an unfortunate Chris Campoli turnover.
Last spring, the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup out of the eight hole in the West, knocking off the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks in the opening round.
This year the Hawks are on the other end of the equation, having finished first in the West and winning the Presidents’ Trophy. They will take on the Minnesota Wild in the first round, another team perfectly capable of pulling off the upset.
“The eighth seed always seems to have nothing to lose,” Hawks winger Patrick Kane said.
“Maybe it’s because they don’t really have a lot of pressure on them,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “We almost beat Vancouver there in the first round a couple years ago, and L.A. went all the way last year.
“It’s getting tighter and tighter and it doesn’t matter what spot you come in. You just have to get in there. It’s going to be fun to play playoff hockey again. We’re all looking forward to it.”
The Wild enter the playoffs not playing very well.
They were embarrassed at home by Edmonton 6-1 on Friday in a game they had to win to make the playoffs, but they did get in on Saturday by winning 3-1 at Colorado.
“We did it the hard way, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter,” defenseman Ryan Suter told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “We’re in the playoffs. We have a chance to do something special now.”
Wild coach Mike Yeo isn’t ready to concede anything.
“I’m a firm believer that you go in and you believe,” Yeo said. “I believe in the group and I believe in what we’ve got going and I felt that we deserved this. It was a little harder than probably we all would have liked.”
This will be Minnesota’s first playoff appearance since 2008, when the Wild won the Northwest Division.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Zach Parise told the Star-Tribune. “You’ve got to get the playoff experience. After four years of missing the playoffs, you’ve got to get in there and taste it and see what it’s like and experience those types of games.
“We shouldn’t be satisfied getting in.”
The Hawks like the way they’re playing going into the postseason, where they are one of the favorites to win their second Cup in four years.
“It’s tough to wait around for the playoffs and then all of a sudden you have to be on top of your game and play even better than in the regular season,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s hard to turn it on and off so we’ve been trying to carry some good momentum into the playoffs.”
This is what the Hawks have been waiting for all season.
“The first round can be very chaotic sometimes and fast paced with a lot of hitting,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “Some teams will try to take you off your game, and no matter what you have to stay with it.”
The Hawks have not advanced past the first round since winning the Cup in 2010. After losing to Vancouver in the first round in 2011, they were bounced by Phoenix in six games last spring.
“We’re not happy with the way we played the last two years,” Hjalmarsson said. “Hopefully we can play the way we’ve done here in the regular season and even step it up because we all know it’s a different level of play in the playoffs.”
“We’ve learned from our past mistakes,” Toews said. “Everyone in this room has matured as a player.”
There are a lot of similarities with these Hawks and the club that won the Cup, starting with depth.
“We have to know the opportunity we have and take advantage of it,” Toews said. “We worked very hard to get where we’re at, but this is the second season starting. We obviously want to be playing our best hockey.”
Ÿ Blackhawks goaltenders Corey Crawford and Ray Emery combined to win their first William M. Jennings Trophy as the goaltenders on the club allowing the fewest goals during the 2012-13 regular season.
Crawford and Emery split the duties on a Hawks team that allowed 102 goals, 2 fewer than the Ottawa Senators. It was the fourth Jennings Trophy in Hawks history (1994-95, 1992-93, 1990-91 — all by Ed Belfour).
Ÿ Follow Tim’s hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.