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Blackhawks motivated to repeat as champions

Chicago veterans not taking latest opportunity for granted

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

CHICAGO -- After winning three championships in six seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks don't have much left to prove heading into the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Unlike the St. Louis Blues, their opponent in a Western Conference First Round series that starts at Scottrade Center on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, SN360, CSN-CH, FS-MW), the Blackhawks don't have a history of postseason disappointment to drive them.

St. Louis has exited the playoffs in the first round the past three seasons, including in 2014 against Chicago.

So it seems like the edge in drive will favor the Blues. The Blackhawks, however, disagree.

"They've obviously been one of the best teams in the League lately, the last couple seasons in the regular season, so I think they'll be pretty motivated this year to go deep in the playoffs," defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said after practice Monday. "But we're going to try and do everything we can to prevent that [from happening]."

The Blackhawks are trying to become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98. But that's not all that motivates the Blackhawks.

"This is what you play for," Hjalmarsson said. "You can never, ever take getting into the playoffs for granted. You just never know when you're going to play your next playoff game. You can get traded or your team might miss the playoffs. [I don't know] if I'll ever be in the playoffs again, so that's how you have to mentally think about that and think about, 'This might be the last time I'll be in the playoffs.' You never know when you'll play your next [playoff] game, so you want to win and go all the way each time you play in the playoffs."

Video: BUF@CHI: Hjalmarsson opens scoring with wrist shot

The Blackhawks have qualified for the playoffs in eight straight seasons, but Hjalmarsson is part of a core group of players that sounds like they play for a team that hasn't made the postseason in a decade.

"You can kind of consider the amount of hockey some of these guys [in here] have played [the past few seasons]," said captain Jonathan Toews. "This is the meaningful hockey to us. It's an opportunity that we don't want to throw away. You work hard to get here. It's not a given you're going to make the playoffs every year. It's not a given that you're going to get this type of opportunity so I think the slate is clean. We're starting over."

The Blackhawks will be healthy for Game 1, with forwards Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov and Andrew Shaw ready to return from late-season injuries.

Forward Andrew Ladd and rookie defenseman Viktor Svedberg didn't practice Monday, but coach Joel Quenneville said both are fine. Goalie Corey Crawford practiced after returning to action in the season finale at the Columbus Blue Jackets. He had missed almost a month because of an upper-body injury.

Crawford said it was important to get back for a game before starting the playoffs.

"Maybe [just to] take a little bit of the rust off after not being in the net for a while," he said. "I saw situations you maybe don't get in practice. I didn't really feel the greatest the whole game ... but it was good to get in there and just see it. I felt great in practice today and I feel fine. I feel confident going into Game 1."

Like Hjalmarsson and Toews, Crawford also said he's feeling the hunger to win another championship. Asked whether his drive to hoist the Cup again is as high as it was before backstopping Chicago to the past two titles, Crawford shook his head and smirked.

"For us?" he said. "Even more. Why wouldn't you want to win again? It's been a while since a team has won back-to-back. That would be unbelievable. But we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves. It's Game 1, but the ultimate goal is obviously to win a championship. Start with that Game 1. It's going to be a fun hockey game."

Toews put a more personal spin on it, speaking about the Cup as something the Blackhawks simply envision as part of their franchise.

"You don't want to be sitting home watching other teams compete for what you think is yours, and I think everyone's forgotten what happened last year," he said. "No one cares anymore. It's time to try and win another one. So I think that motivation is there as much as it's ever been."

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