The feeling coming out of the second round was certainly happiness and, perhaps, a little relief.
The Chicago Blackhawks had a tough one with the Minnesota Wild, a series that they struggled to find all-around team consistency. The Blackhawks came out of that series happy that they are heading to the Western Conference Final for the fourth time in the past six seasons. They also enter this next round knowing they have yet to really play their best hockey.
The Blackhawks will know by the end of this evening if they’re playing the Anaheim Ducks or the Los Angeles Kings. Regardless, it’s ultimately about their game, not the opposition’s. They want to be playing their style throughout and they want to be improving off the levels they’ve set in the first two rounds.
“We’re focused on our game,” Corey Crawford said on Friday. “You still have to be aware of what other teams do. You have to be aware of when their strong players are on the ice. Those guys are difference-makers. You definitely have to be aware when they get out there and their tendencies. But for the most part, it’s about what we’re doing: make sure that our preparation is there and we’re at our best.”
The Blackhawks have differing opinions on how well they played against the Wild. On Thursday, coach Joel Quenneville said, “people might think we didn’t think we didn’t play very well against Minnesota. I’ll discount that 100 percent, knowing we just beat a heck of a hockey team that plays a game that doesn’t make it look pretty in order to get through it.” Some players said they didn’t have their best team outings. Regardless, all agree that the next round is going to be much more intense and require much more from them.
“I think we can be better,” Nick Leddy said. “I don’t think we played our best in the Minnesota series but I think that’s how the playoffs are. A lot of things have to go right in the playoffs. Obviously you have to have a very good goaltender, you’ve got to be limited on injuries and you also have to have a little luck on your side and a lot of things have to go right.”
The Blackhawks know how to ratchet the intensity up at this time of year. They got stronger as the postseason wore on in 2013 and know they’ll have to do the same this spring. Their confidence is high; they know their game level will have to be the same.
“There has to be (another level),” Jonathan Toews. “You improve as a series goes along and you have to get better and better as the payoffs go along. We have to be better than we’ve been in the first two rounds if we want to keep going all the way.”