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Stanley Cup Playoff postcard: Chicago's Shawn P. Roarke explores Navy Pier, revisits old favorites

by Shawn P. Roarke @SRoarke_NHL / Director of Editorial

CHICAGO -- Trips to this city are almost commonplace now because the Chicago Blackhawks have been among the NHL's elite teams for the past decade.

I've been here for extended trips during the 2010, 2013 and 2015 runs to the Stanley Cup. I was also here for the 2014 Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings.

But in all those trips I never really took the time to play tourist.

I remedied that situation on Friday, the off-day between Game 1 and Game 2 of the Western Conference First Round series between the Blackhawks and Nashville Predators. After covering practice by each team, I was done by late afternoon and had little on the docket, so I started walking, exiting my hotel and taking a left, heading toward Lake Michigan.

Before long, I was at the Navy Pier.

It's a little early to be peak season for one of Chicago's top tourist attractions, but the pier was still full of families and couples, shopping, eating, riding the roller coaster or just strolling and taking in the majesty of the lake and the city skyline.

I walked the length of the pier, browsing through the stores and restaurants on my way out to the end of the pier and then outside on the way back.

Despite the coolness of the air and bareness of the trees, I can see why the pier is a summer oasis for people in the city. It was peaceful and beautiful.

I walked through part of Lake Shore Park, which runs between Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan, enjoying the views of the water and the skyline before wandering aimlessly back into the city, taking in the architecture and people watching as I walked all through the River North area.

Eventually, I settled in for dinner and the end of the Columbus game against Pittsburgh and then the final two periods of the Minnesota game against St. Louis.

While it was fun to discover new things and places, part of the beauty of coming to a place you frequent is the comfort of knowing places that are worth revisiting and seeing people you have gotten to know during past trips.

For me, that means at least one trip to Xoco, the lunch spot run by Rick Bayless, the famous Mexican chef. It is the perfect place to get some authentic Mexican fare. I stopped there Thursday between the morning skates and the game.

Saturday, it was a visit to the Palace Grill, a diner down the road from United Center. On a perfect afternoon, I walked there with several colleagues and enjoyed a fine lunch outside, enjoying the spring weather and some funny stories of past hockey experiences.

If you've never been to the Palace Grill, you should go. It's a Chicago institution, serving as a gathering place for many before they head to a Blackhawks game. You won't find a nicer owner than George either. Make sure you say hello if you stop by.

Sunday morning, it is off to Nashville, another city I have come to know very well after covering part of the Predators' playoff run last season, as well as the 2016 NHL All-Star Game. And, if you want to go back far enough, the 2003 NHL Draft.

I can't wait to see what experiences await there. I'll let you know in my next postcard.

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