– Everyone knew the Blackhawks were back.
The resurgence of the once-proud club that had fallen on hard times is familiar news, both within Chicago’s city limits and across the NHL.
As impressive as the Blackhawks' two seasons under the Rocky Wirtz regime have been, there's a significant difference between compiling big wins for and huge revenues from a hockey-starved populace, and turning that into great postseason success.
But the Blackhawks' extremely young core, almost completely devoid of postseason experience, hasn’t slowed the team’s roll into the postseason, having gone up 2-0 in their 2009 Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Calgary Flames
. Not that anyone is really surprised.
"You could see some first-game jitters there, for sure, even in Game 2," says veteran NHL broadcaster and Blackhawks announcer Ed Olczyk. "But the way these guys rebounded in both games really opened some eyes around the League, I think."
In fact, it's been the Blackhawks' core sophomores, Jonathan Toews
and Patrick Kane
, who have keyed Chicago’s early success. In Game 2 alone, Toews broke the ice for the Hawks with a nifty flip shot and then rebounded in the eventual game-winner to cap a daunting net rush, while Kane supplied a sweet turnaround assist on a center feed to Patrick Sharp
to tie the game at two.
"No doubt, we came out nervous in Game 1," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville
. "They should have been gone by Game 2, but there was something there that got us off slow last night as well. I did a little more talking to guys on the bench than usual, just reminding them of our game plan, stay focused, keep doing the little things that got us here."
Quenneville admits that despite all game-planning and guidance, there's no tonic he can circulate that will grow his recent teens into gruff 10-year vets. Nor does he deny that this young band of Blackhawks is an uncommonly cool and mature group. But one aid he’s quick to doff a cap to is the Blackhawks' famed seventh skater — the rowdy Chicago crowd, attempting in this postseason to lift the roof completely off the United Center.
"I love the way we battled back in both games," Quenneville said. "But I just have to commend our crowds for an assist on those rallies. Game 2 especially, the enthusiasm there was off the charts."
Perhaps it's those indefatigable shouts and rhythmic whistles that help keep the crew calm when times turn on ice, but as a whole, Chicago has epitomized grace under pressure, postseason or not.
"We came out relaxed in the second [period of Game 2], not feeling any tension," Toews said. "We feel like we get smarter as games go along. We’ve got the right mix of veterans and coaches helping keep us confident. Top to bottom, everything’s clicking for us right now."
"This is a group that doesn’t care about who’s scoring, but who’s winning," said Sharp, a six-year veteran who’s seen both the highs and lows of hockey in Chicago. “That might not be an uncommon theme for hockey teams, but it’s essential for a winning hockey team. And that’s what we have in Chicago right now."