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Toast of the town: Martin Havlat

by Brett Ballantini
It took more than two years, but Martin Havlat has arrived in Chicago.
Injured for much of his initial season with the Blackhawks, the winger has blossomed in his eighth NHL season, skating in 81 games and setting career highs across the board. In Chicago's quarterfinal defeat of the Calgary Flames, Havlat set the tone with two goals in the Game 1 win, including the sneeze-and-you-missed-it overtime winner. Aside from a flat Game 4, Havlat proved Chicago's strongest two-way player throughout the series, with lightning-quick sprints and wristers on the offensive end as well as a willingness to meet goading checks from the likes of Dion Phaneuf with chin jutted.
Chicago, struggling at the time of Havlat's acquisition (2006) through a dearth of postseason berths the likes of which it had never seen before, was slow to embrace the steely Czech whose calm, deliberate demeanor can be perceived as dispassion in a city that screams its way through the National Anthem. But in game after game this postseason, Havlat has been the team's standup guy, exuding the strength and calm in the clubhouse an inexperienced team so desperately needs. Whenever times got tight, a Blackhawk needed only to glance over at Havlat, lacing up skates, business as usual, to snuff any nerves or crisis of confidence.
To be sure, there were standouts to burn in that series win. First-line defenders Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook ate ice time and managed to significantly stymie Flames superstar Jarome Ignila. Again excepting Game 4, Nikolai Khabibulin was dominant, a steady veteran in net giving the young Blackhawks in front of him confidence and courage. And even bit players like Dustin Byfuglien and Adam Burish provided just the right amount of offensive spark and overall aggressiveness to send a message to Calgary.
It will be impossible for Havlat to supplant either Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane, the Hawks' killer kiddie corps, as a true king of Chicago hockey. But Havlat's quiet confidence and sneaky skills on ice have won the hearts of fans: From the initial slap shot of the Blackhawks first postseason series in seven years, the roars from the United Center faithful were louder when the puck hit Havlat's blade than they were for any other skater.
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