CHICAGO – The Blackhawks may have dominated Calgary during the regular season, but past performance offers no guarantee this week as Chicago takes on Calgary in its first Stanley Cup playoff appearance since 2002.
“Calgary’s going to be hungry and we’re going to be hungry,” Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith said Tuesday after an hour-long practice at a private Chicago rink. “We realize it’s the playoffs and every game is a different game and if we don’t bring it, we’re not going to win.”
Still, Chicago heads into Thursday’s opener of the best-of-seven Western Conference series with at least two positives.
The Blackhawks were 4-0 against the Flames during the regular season and have a goalie who has historically had an upper hand over Calgary.
“I think experience is very important this time of year and whoever has the experience has to pass it along,” said Nikolai Khabibulin, who is 21-5-2 lifetime against the Flames and beat them in the 2004 Stanley Cup final while with Tampa Bay.
“(But) it doesn’t mean anything that we played them well during the season. Once the playoffs start it all starts from scratch and we have to be ready.”
The Blackhawks finished as the No. 4 seed in the West and will also host Game 2 on Saturday at the United Center. The series moves to Calgary’s Pengrowth Saddledome next week for two games and would return to Chicago for Game 5 if necessary.
Chicago has only one playoff appearance since 1997 and the current roster – the league’s youngest – is relatively light on post-season experience.
Although 10 players have varying degrees of playoff minutes with other teams, it’s the first time for young stars like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
“We’re excited, but we’re keeping our feet on the ground,” said Toews. “Every inch, every little bit of success we get against this team we’re going to have to work for. A lot of our focus is just going out and playing hockey and not getting overwhelmed by everything. (But) we’ve got a lot of level-headed guys in this locker-room.”
Veteran left-winger Andrew Ladd warns that the intensity level is about to pick up.
“You go through the whole regular season and you think that’s a high level and then you get to the playoffs and it kind of blows you away,” said Ladd, who won a Stanley Cup ring with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.
Head coach Joel Quenneville believes the journey through a successful regular season has offered playoff preparation.
“These guys have all played competitive games and meaningful games along the way, so I think that can help us,” he said. “And we’ve got some experienced guys in key positions. (Khabibulin) has been around through it and can help along the way. And we’ve got coaches who can help us all.”