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The Climb

Blackhawks look to start climb toward repeat

Blues' Tarasenko, Elliott represent Chicago's first obstacles

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / Managing Editor

Sixteen teams have made it through the regular season and earned a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. One of them is trying to do something that hasn't been done in 18 years.

The Chicago Blackhawks are trying to become the first team in the 21st century to win the Cup in back-to-back years. The last team to win consecutive championships was the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

This is the Blackhawks' third try in the past six seasons at winning two in a row. They were eliminated in the first round in 2011, one year after ending a 49-year Cup drought, and lost to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final in 2014, one year after defeating the Boston Bruins for the Cup.

But the task won't be easy. The Blackhawks will not have home-ice advantage when they begin their Western Conference First Round series against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports, CSN-CH, FS-MW).

The Blues are trying to overcome a reputation for being a team that can't carry its regular-season success into the playoffs. They have finished first or second in the Central Division for five straight seasons but haven't won a playoff series since 2012. St. Louis hasn't made the Final since 1970.

Here are four players trying to help their teams take the first step in the climb toward the Cup.

Patrick Kane, F, Blackhawks -- Kane became the first U.S.-born player to win the NHL scoring title when he finished the regular season with 106 points. He also set a record for American-born players with a 26-game point streak. Kane's scoring touch doesn't evaporate at playoff time: He has 114 points in 116 Stanley Cup games, led the Blackhawks last spring with 23 points in 23 games and scored the Cup-winning goal in overtime in 2010.

Corey Crawford, G, Blackhawks -- Crawford looked rusty in the Blackhawks' regular-season finale Saturday, allowing five goals in his return after missing 11 games because of an upper-body injury. For all the Blackhawks' talent, Crawford might be their most important player. He's been in goal for their past two Stanley Cup runs and showed last year that he can overcome adversity by rebounding after being pulled following a bad start in the first round.

Video: CHI@CBJ: Crawford denies Atkinson and Bourque

Vladimir Tarasenko, F, Blues -- The Blues signed Tarasenko to an eight-year contract in July 2015. He rewarded their confidence with the first 40-goal season of his NHL career. He also led the Blues with 12 power-play goals and seven game-winners, including one in overtime against the Blackhawks on April 7. Tarasenko is one of the few Blues who has shown the ability to step up his game at playoff time: he has 10 goals in 13 career postseason games.

Brian Elliott, G, Blues -- Prior to a 5-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday, Elliott had been 11-0-0 in his past 13 games and was one of the main reasons the Blues entered their final game of the season with a chance to win the Central Division. He led the League with a .930 save percentage, was tied for second in goals-against average at 2.07 and had three consecutive shutouts in late March. Elliott will have to produce that kind of performance for the Blues to advance in the playoffs; he has a career postseason record of 6-11 with a 2.54 GAA and .897 save percentage.

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