Much like the Boston Bruins, expectations for the Chicago Blackhawks weren’t sky high entering this season. Most figured the young ‘Hawks would take the next step in their development by battling for a playoff spot, but instead Chicago earned the fourth seed in the Western Conference and is now in the conference finals against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
Even though they’ve advanced farther than some predicted, the ‘Hawks plan on doing more than enjoying the experience now that they’re within one round of the Stanley Cup final.
“You know, with the salary cap these days, you never know how long you can keep a team together. For us, we want to take advantage of the opportunity we have now,” star forward Patrick Kane said in a conference call today. “I think we have a great opportunity here. Before the year, if you told us we’d be in this position, I don’t know if I’d believe you. But, you know, now it feels like we have a great team, a team that can do some damage.”
With Martin Havlat and Matt Walker scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this summer, and Kris Versteeg, Dave Bolland and Cam Barker potential restricted free agents, there’s some chance the ‘Hawks won’t be able to return the same group next winter. So Kane’s words ring true.
Although Detroit won four of six meetings with the ‘Hawks in the regular season, Chicago won the last two. So Detroit knows that this Chicago club is young, but dangerous.
“They’re obviously feeling good about themselves, about being here, being hungry and excited about getting a chance to play in the conference finals. That’s something we have to respect coming in,” Detroit All-Star defenseman Niklas Lidstrom said. “Having played last night, we have to get ready for a new series starting Sunday. We have respect for them. They’ve earned the conference finals. They’ve been playing well. They’ve beaten out some teams with experience.”
Lidstrom and his Wings teammates met the challenge Anaheim presented in the second round with offensive stalwarts like Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. Now Detroit has to draw up a game plan to slow a high-powered Chicago offense led by Kane and captain Jonathan Toews.
“The line we’ve been facing in the previous series here with Getzlaf at center, they’re big guys, good at hanging onto the puck down low and kind of grinding it out and trying to tire us out a little bit,” Lidstrom said. “Whereas the young Blackhawks have the speed, great speed, and they’re very skilled players. I think they’re going to come at us with a lot more speed and try to score off the rush. I think that’s the big difference.”
Kane knows solving Lidstrom will be a challenge as large, if not larger, as beating goaltender Roberto Luongo and Vancouver in the second round.
“He obviously has a great stick,” the second-year forward said. “He’s always in good position. You know he’s not a guy that’s going to hammer you, but he’s one of the best defensemen in the league. You watch him on the power play, with his slap shot, getting shots through, he’s unbelievable at that. He’s so creative too.”
Creativity, speed and some good, old-fashioned Original Six bad blood should rule the day in this series. We’ll find out if youth will be served or the Wings will continue their march to a repeat.