Playing in the last series to start is like waiting for Christmas morning to arrive for the Chicago Blackhawks
, who have become a popular pick to win this year's Stanley Cup.
The wait also gives them a chance to become spectators. Wednesday's three upsets and No. 4 Phoenix downing red-hot Detroit, the No. 5 seed, was both entertaining to watch and eye-opening.
Chicago, the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, hosts upset-minded No. 7 Nashville Friday night at the United Center (8:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN2) in a series expected to be low-scoring and physical.
"If you're Nashville, it can get you excited and if you're us it'll get your attention," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville
said of the early upsets. "I don't know if there's a big favorite or a huge favorite (in these playoffs). Over the course of seven games, it's probably going to even out -- but at this time of year anything can happen."
"Last year, we didn't really care what anybody said about us. Every critic seemed to pick Calgary and Vancouver over us for those two series. Whatever is said about us is just water off the duck's back. We're confident as a team and to us, that's all that really matters."
-- Jonathan Toews
Quenneville hopes the wait feeds his team's enthusiasm for Friday night.
"It's a fun situation where we've been sitting, waiting to get to this point," he said following Thursday's practice. "I think that just creates a bigger appetite for us."
Star center Jonathan Toews
, however, is trying not to get too caught up in the hockey buzz going around the League. He watched some games on Wednesday, but wasn't glued to the NHL Network's "On The Fly" show like many fans.
"It's interesting to see the first night with all the matchups and all the upsets that took place," Toews said. "At the same time, I don't want to be too worried about what's going on around us. You can kind of get hockey overload."
Being immune to local talk about the Stanley Cup is another matter. Toews is keenly aware of the increased expectations on the Hawks, and is using it as a motivator. The Hawks brushed off their doubters a year ago and now are brushing off those who expect them to win it all this year.
"Last year, we didn't really care what anybody said about us," Toews said. "Every critic seemed to pick Calgary and Vancouver over us for those two series. Whatever is said about us is just water off the duck's back. We're confident as a team and to us, that's all that really matters."
Home not as sweet? –
Legendary coach Scotty Bowman made an appearance in the Hawks' dressing room after practice Thursday and said he was intrigued by Wednesday's games.
The one thing that he took from the upsets is that home ice might not be as important as it used to be.
"It doesn't seem to be the same as when I first started," said Bowman, who won nine Cups with three separate teams. "More times than not, you'd hold serve and win your first two and then go on the road and they'd win two. There (weren't) many breakthroughs. (Now), the home team can still have an edge, but I don't think it's quite the same edge as it was."
Bowman is in his second season as a senior advisor of hockey operations for the Hawks, who many are picking to end Chicago's 49-year Cup drought this year. Bowman cautioned against thinking too far ahead.
"They had 52 wins during the season ... but Nashville won 47 games," said Bowman, whose son Stan Bowman is the Hawks' general manager. "It's a lot closer than you might envision. When you win two rounds and you lose in the third round (like last year), it's a lot to even get back to that."
Membership denied –
The Hawks have been asked a version of the same thing all week regarding young Finnish goalie Antti Niemi
: "Is he always this quiet?"
Their answer is yes, he is. Quenneville likes Niemi's quiet personality, but admitted that it isn't like many other goalies that he's ever been around.
"As a guy he is as zero or no maintenance as any guy I've been around ... especially for goalies," Quenneville said. "You know, they've got their own union. I don't know if he'd be accepted."
Getting started –
The United Center should be raucous when the Hawks and Preds face off Friday, and Quenneville hopes the energy lifts his team to an early lead.
The Hawks finished the season with an impressive 30-7-5 record when leading after the first period and hope to extend the trend into the Playoffs.
"We want to emphasize the enthusiasm in the building," Quenneville said. "Let's translate that into a strong start."
Other news –
Quenneville plans to use center Dave Bolland
at the point on power plays, and the Hawks have spent a good amount of time this week working on the extra-man unit in practice.
The Hawks went just 10 for 78 (12.8 percent) on the power play in the last 21 games following the Olympic break. ... Forward Adam Burish
is likely the odd man out on a fourth-line that produced 10 goals, eight assists and a plus-21 plus/minus rating over the last seven games. Colin Fraser
, Tomas Kopecky
and Ben Eager
will man that line on Friday.