Patrick Kane has referred to the 2011-12 Blackhawks’ first-round loss to Phoenix several times this season. That early ousting left a bitter taste and frustrated a group that he said felt could’ve gone much further last season.
And it’s provided nothing but motivation all of this season.
The Blackhawks had a 24-game unbeaten streak, earned a Presidents’ Trophy and a Jennings Trophy during their remarkable regular season. But it’s all built to these playoffs, where they feel they have something to prove after a disappointing end last spring. It starts against their first-round opponent, the Minnesota Wild, here tomorrow night.
“That summer it was hard to take that loss. All of us felt we could’ve won that series,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “Obviously we didn’t. They won fair and square and we weren’t better than they were that round. We haven’t been playing our best in the first round the last two years. Hopefully this year we can come out flying.”
Patrick Sharp said, “I don’t think anyone was happy with the way things ended. We’ve waited a long time to get back to this time of year.”
Last year featured a few frustrations, from the nine-game winless streak that dropped the Blackhawks out of the top four among the Western Conference to that lost first-round series that featured five consecutive overtime games to start. As soon as they reconvened this winter they had a goal: get better, get back to the postseason, get home ice and get back to going deep.
“Everybody’s got something to prove,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You look at the season we had and the success: the expectations are in place, whether they’re from our fans, our organization or from one another. It’s a healthy situation, and I think we should be going into these playoffs knowing anything can happen and be very respectful of our opponent. It’s a dangerous team. But I’ll be concentrating on what we have to do. We should all be motivated to continue on with what we’ve accomplished this season.”
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Duncan Keith said the determination to right their playoff ship stretches back a little further than last April, too.
“Even after the Vancouver series two years ago we were frustrated with how things ended up,” he said. “Now two years removed, we’re not going to be any hungrier to have success. We just need to show that in our game.”
The Blackhawks have shown that all throughout the regular season. Their longest losing streak was two games. Whenever they had an off period or tough individual performance, they bounced back immediately. Indeed, this year’s team bares little resemblance to last year’s in a lot of ways, even if the roster is pretty much the same. The Blackhawks hope the playoffs are much different than last season, too.
“It was definitely disappointing; for sure, we could’ve gone further,” Corey Crawford said. “But there’s nothing you can do about it now. You just learn from it, take whatever we can from last year and carry it into this year.”