It’s amazing what a little home-and-home sweep can do for a team's self-assurance.
After failing to beat their arch-rival, the Detroit Red Wings, in any of their previous four meetings, the Blackhawks’ confidence is high following a two-game sweep of the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“It’s definitely nice to finish on a positive note, especially beating a team like the Red Wings,” said Nikolai Khabibulin, who stopped all 37 shots he faced Sunday. “You want to have good habits going into the playoffs, and overall I thought we played pretty well.”
“We played some very important games down the stretch that had a lot of meaning and ramifications,” said head coach Joel Quenneville. “We were tighter defensively and we scored timely goals. This tough stretch helped us re-capture the memory of what’s necessary to win, and what winning feels like.”
After a rough series of games in March, the Blackhawks have drastically improved at the end of the regular season; in each of seven games this April – all against Central Division opponents – they have earned at least a point. The Hawks only have one loss this month, a 4-3 overtime decision against Columbus.
“I think we've had a great end [of the season,]” said Martin Havlat. “The last two games, we played pretty well and hopefully we can keep that momentum going into the next game.”
Another reason for cautious optimism is how the Blackhawks matched up with their first-round opponents, the Calgary Flames, this year. The Hawks took all four contests in the season series, outscoring the Flames 19-7.
But Chicago knows that past success doesn’t mean the upcoming series will be easy. The Flames feature a number of players from their Stanley Cup Finals run in 2004, such as Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff, and they have the edge in terms of experience against the young Blackhawks.
“The regular season is different than they playoffs,” Havlat said. “Many of us are going to play for the first time, and maybe we can surprise them. But their team is very strong with great forwards, defense and goalies, and they’ve got experience.”
“I think Calgary is going to be a pretty good match-up for us,” said Patrick Kane. “They’re a great team, and they have some players who have done a lot in the playoffs. We’re looking forward to it.”
Despite the weight of the expectations being placed on their shoulders, the Blackhawks know that they can be successful in the playoffs by playing a complete team game and minimizing mistakes, two things they have done well most of the year.
“I think one of the things that we’ve been good at this year is not focusing on what has been said outside our locker room,” said Jonathan Toews. “In the playoffs, everything little thing we do is put in focus. It’s time come together as a team and play our best for each other.”