Every long-suffering Chicago hockey fan can celebrate today because their Hawks are back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, proving their relevancy in a sports-mad city and making good on their promise to the many thousands of fans that walked through the United Center turnstiles this season.
Getting in, though, is only the first part of the equation. The Hawks are embarking on an altogether different journey now and forward Patrick Sharp
took some time to talk about it with NHL.com. Sharp, who injured his left knee April 3 and didn't for any remaining regular-season games, is expected to be ready when Chicago opens at home against Calgary this week.
Here are our seven questions with the winger known as Sharpie:
1. NHL.com: You have experienced playoff hockey with the Flyers; but for a lot of your teammates, this is their first go-round. Have you or some other guys, like Nikolai Khabibulin and Andrew Ladd, started to talk to the boys about what to expect?
"There have been some conversations about it. We look to the guys like Khabibulin and Ladd, guys who have been there before. I got a taste of playoff hockey. I played a small role with the Flyers and we went to the Eastern Conference Final (in 2004). We're all very excited about it. Being a young team without a lot of playoff experience, we're looking at that as a positive, not a negative. We're going to play exciting hockey. We're all pumped up to get there and play in the playoffs."
2. NHL.com: What do you remember about that experience with the Flyers back in 2004? You played 12 games, but you did go to the Eastern Conference Final, so what sticks out?
"I just remember how intense it was. It was hockey 24 hours a day, even on the off days. It was everything pertaining to the game; who was injured, the power-play units. It was so intense right down to the last detail and it was a lot of fun. It's what you dream of and I just remember the intensity and how serious everyone was taking it."
3. NHL.com: How has playing in the Central Division, which is probably considered the best in hockey, prepared you for the playoffs?
"I think it has helped us quite a bit. It's not the old Central Division of years past. Every team plays a physical style of hockey and an intense brand of hockey. Columbus, St. Louis and Nashville are all good teams. It forced us to raise our level a bit to get ready for the playoffs. All five teams were fighting to get into the playoffs and it seemed like every divisional game was a big one. It's a good division to be a part of."
4. NHL.com: If there is a concern right now inside the dressing room, what is it?
"There are not too many concerns. I mean, staying healthy is always our main concern and we have stayed relatively healthy for the majority of the season and that has been a big part of our success. Coming into the playoffs we want to make sure we're 100 percent or close to it. Other than that, we're going to do our best to analyze our opponent and formalize our game plan to take them on. We're just playing loose, having fun and looking forward to it."
5. NHL.com: Expectations are high in Chicago now, but are they realistic?
: "I think they are. At the start of the year, our goal was to get into the playoffs and I think we have not so much surprised ourselves, but surprised other people in hockey at how good we can be. We have played winning hockey all year long. We haven't really hit any rough patches. The expectations are high, but they are set high in the organization and the players are being held accountable to that. Getting to the first, second or third round, we're not concerned with that. We're worried about winning that Stanley Cup and having a parade here in Chicago."
6. NHL.com: You were undefeated against Calgary this season, so is it a matchup you guys like?
"I think it's too hard to do that kind of stuff. Those are regular-season games and on one hand you could say yeah because we had success against them this year, but we've been in the game too long to say that. We know come playoff time everything is revved up that much more and the Saddledome will be one of the toughest places to go to win a playoff game. They are a physical team and a team that is experienced. Our regular-season success against them doesn't really weigh in on anything in the playoffs. You start fresh and it will be a tough series."
7. NHL.com: You guys were in position to get home-ice advantage for most of the season and after a brief time in fifth managed to win it back it at the end. How much of a difference will it make opening with those first two games at home in front of 21,000-plus at the UnitedCenter?
"There is going to be excitement or buzz regardless, but our fans have been great to us all year long. We have had close to 22,000 for every home game and I think our home record speaks for itself. Those fans definitely helped us, pushed us and motivated us to play our best hockey."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com