Reset the records. Wipe the slate clean. Level the playing field.
Those phrases were bandied about in one form or the other in the Chicago Blackhawks’ locker room on Monday. All those wonderful things they did in the regular season are just that: wonderful regular-season accomplishments. But now that’s in the past. Now the Blackhawks have to deal with a Minnesota Wild team that, while they may have struggled to get that final Western Conference seed, will no doubt be ready to topple the West champs.
“I think now that they’re in the playoffs, they feel they have nothing to lose and they can relax and play their game,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “They can be a real dangerous team to play from now on.”
The Wild had a rough April, and they needed to win their final regular-season game against the Colorado Avalanche to lock in that No. 8 spot. The Blackhawks can relate to that, sort of; two seasons ago, they needed Minnesota to beat the Dallas Stars in their regular-season finale to push the Blackhawks into the postseason. That Blackhawks team nearly knocked off No. 1 Vancouver in the first round. So the Blackhawks aren’t going to brush off the Wild.
“The Wild are some tough competition. They’ve worked hard to get where they are right now,” Jonathan Toews said. “You look at how the playoffs have gone the last couple of years; if you’re the first or the eighth seed, it doesn’t matter. As soon as Game 1 starts tomorrow, everything that happened before that is pretty meaningless and we know that.”
What the Blackhawks do need this postseason, and what has escaped them their past two playoff appearances, is a fast start. Coach Joel Quenneville recognized how costly it’s been in the past, especially against the Vancouver Canucks two seasons ago. But any similarity between that Blackhawks team and this one is purely coincidental.
“This year we’re deeper in all areas,” he said. “I would have to say the growth and motivation are definitely in the right place.”
The Wild will have its own motivation. It started this summer when they signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to mega-million contracts in a push to end their five-season playoff drought. It continued late Saturday after they earned that final spot. They’re eager, not only to show they belong in the playoffs, but that they can send another Presidents’ Trophy winner packing.
Minnesota could get an extra boost if forward Jason Pominville plays. He’s likely to, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, as he returned to the Wild’s practice today in Minnesota. Wild coach Mike Yeo knows the undertaking his team faces against the Blackhawks. He also knows it’s clean-slate time.
“Game 1 it resets,” he told the Star-Tribune today. “We know that they're a good team and we have a lot of respect for them, but everything starts fresh right now. We've won zero games and they've won zero games."