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Blackhawks prepare for big night

by Stuart Shea
CHICAGO -- "Today's an interesting day for everybody."

So said Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville following his team's Thursday morning skate, hours from puck drop before Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Calgary Flames.

Quenneville knows that expectations for his team are high, with the Hawks not having made the playoffs since 2002, but he is confident in his club and in the support they'll get tonight from a sold-out United Center.

"We've waited a long time to get to today," said the coach. "We're excited."

Quenneville answered one big question early, noting that Patrick Sharp, out several games with a balky left knee, will be in the lineup. The coach refused to tip his hat, however, as to which line Sharp would skate with, instead noting that the 27-year-old winger would give his team flexibility on the ice and fill different roles, including on special teams.

Sharp is ready for battle.

"I'm 100 percent," he said confidently following a strong morning skate.

When asked if he was worried about some physical play from the hard-hitting Flames, Sharp laughed. "Everyone in here is going to get challenged physically. We're a young team with a lot of guys playing their first playoffs. But we're not worried about that … it's gonna feel good to get back on the ice."

Center Jonathan Toews echoed Sharp's comments about what to expect tonight.

"Any team tries to focus on the other team's best players, make it tough on them, and try to take them off their game," Toews said. "Every guy in this locker room is ready for that, and we'll try to do the same to them."

Quenneville believes the Blackhawks, who swept the four-game series against the Flames this season, are ready for the physical challenge, and isn't worried about his team's perceived lack of experience.

"We expect a physical series," Quenneville said. "We want to be initiating as well as answering hits. A lot of teams might think that hitting is one way of getting to us, but it doesn't discourage us from going into every area of the rink.

"Our young players are leaders. Some of the guys haven't had playoff experience, but we have some key personnel who've been through the battles."

Speaking of playoff vets like Nikolai Khabibulin, Sammy Pahlsson, Martin Havlat, and Brian Campbell, Sharp noted, "We've tried to pick their brains as much as possible. They're important guys playing important positions for us. We're going to count on them as much as we can."

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