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Blackhawks are at ease awaiting Predators

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO – If the Chicago Blackhawks are nervous about getting their second straight Stanley Cup Playoffs started, it doesn't show.
Patrick Kane is cracking jokes about his new playoffs-inspired mullet. Andrew Ladd is "getting the itch" to win the Cup again, after winning it with Carolina in 2006. Jonathan Toews is sick of talking about goalie Antti Niemi's lack of playoff experience. And then there's Niemi, who often answers questions with just a word or two.
After Tuesday's practice, the Hawks' first since dropping the regular-season finale to Detroit Sunday, Niemi drew laughs when asked about his plan to combat restlessness before Friday's first-round opener against Nashville.
"I think I'm going to be able to sleep," he said. "I've got some pills that will help."

It might take Niemi longer to adjust to the increased tension in the playoffs. Like a number of goaltenders this year, this is his first post-season experience. The jitters aren't bad right now, but the media presence around his stall is an indicator of how bright the spotlight burns on goaltenders in the Playoffs.
Niemi's greenness was the most popular topic of conversation despite the stellar numbers that he put up over the last seven games or the way he took control of the No. 1 netminder's job during a late push for playoff positioning. The Hawks think Niemi's numbers and play speak best for his ability.
"I've never been asked so many questions about our goaltender," Toews said. "We're very confident that he'll do a great job, just like we are of everybody else in this locker room. We're all ready to step up our game and we all understand it's going to take a bigger effort if you want to win Game 1 on Friday or anything beyond that."
To a man, the Hawks didn't show any signs of a hangover after being denied the Western Conference's top playoff seed by Detroit. Instead, the mood was upbeat, especially with Brouwer's return to the ice.
Brouwer, who scored 22 goals and scored 40 points this season, missed the last four games back home in Vancouver with his hospitalized father.
"It was tough," he said. "Especially in such a crucial time of the year, I wanted to be around for the guys. I just had other business I had to take care of. My parents tape all the games, so I was able to watch."
As for his dad's condition?
"He's doing better, that's for sure," Brouwer said. "He doesn't want me around right now. He's the guy who really wants me to do well in hockey. As soon as he was OK, he wanted me to get back here doing what I love to do and what he loves to watch."
The four-day wait to play the Predators was thought to be a potential concern for the Hawks, who were one of the League's hottest teams at season's end. Instead, the time off might be a blessing. Chicago had six players in the Olympics who could use the time off, including four who played in the gold-medal game. Defenseman Duncan Keith, who played for Team Canada, was given the day off as a "maintenance day" according to coach Joel Quenneville.
It also gives Brouwer time to get his sea legs back.
"It's nice to have these few days to get the legs going," he said. "When I was at home, I skated a few times. I'm not completely out of it, but by the time we play the game it will be almost two weeks since I have played. It will take a couple of shifts to really get back into it."
Quotable -- Patrick Kane talked about his new playoffs-inspired hairdo, a mullet that might make Billy Ray Cyrus jealous.
"I'm bringing back the '80s look, I guess," Kane said. "They were saying that it's business up front and a party in the back. No pony tail -- just a little trashy for a little bit. The boys all got a good laugh out of it."
Dueling Finns -- Antti Niemi, who is Finnish, barely knows Nashville's Finnish goalie Pekka Rinne.
They briefly played on the same team "a couple of times" in Finland, but Niemi didn't talk to Rinne much. He will be talking to his teammates about Rinne's weak spots by "giving tips" on how to beat the massive 6-foot-5, 207 pound net-minder.
"It's an advantage," Niemi said of Rinne's size. "He's got a big body, big butterfly. But there are also some things that are not as easy to do when you are that big."
Hey, old friend -- Andrew Ladd got his day with the Stanley Cup after the Hurricanes won it in 2006, but he also saw it up close last summer at a party thrown by former Carolina teammate Craig Adams, who won it again last season with Pittsburgh.
Did Ladd touch the Cup for old time's sake?
"Yeah, I did," he said. "It gives you the itch to win it again. Once you've experienced it once, you want to do it again."

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