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Urgent, urgent: Fast start imperative for Blackhawks in first-round series vs. Blues
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is counting on his veteran team to respond to the urgency of the moment — there is no time to wade into the playoff waters this year.
Though the Hawks have won two Stanley Cup championships in the past four years, their run of excellence has been marked by relatively slow starts. In 2010, they were seconds away from facing an elimination game in Nashville before a miracle rally in Game 5 led to a 4-2 opening-round series victory. The Hawks fell behind Vancouver 3-0 in games in 2011 and Phoenix 3-1 in 2012, losing in the first round both times. And even last year they muddled through the first-round against the short-handed Minnesota Wild while winning in five games.
It’s unlikely they will survive a similar effort against the St. Louis Blues in the opening round this season. While the Blues come in to the playoffs with a six-game losing streak, they still were the best team in hockey as recently as mid-March. And they could be at full strength for the first time in more than a month.
‘’We have to be ready to hit the ground running against this team,’’ Quenneville said. ‘’We had an ordinary start last year in Minnesota series. Had a terrific regular season last year, seemed like the playoffs is the same pace. We have to expect this to be a different pace than the regular-season pace.’’
The Blackhawks, though, have been slow to recognize urgency in recent playoffs — often waiting until situations become dire before snapping out of it. It remains to be seen how much they are in control of their fate. If they could flip the switch, it likely would have been flipped by now. With the Hawks, it just kind of happens.
‘’There’s no time to wait against a team like St. Louis,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said. ‘’It’s going to be a tough series. I don’t think we were too satisfied with the way we started against Minnesota. Maybe they had some injuries in goal and some things that maybe went our way for us to win that series. It caught up to us against Detroit.
‘’So we’ve got to learn from that and know that we have to be at our best right off the bat. It’s time for us to play our best hockey right now.’’
It remains to be seen if the Hawks can do that on their own. Quenneville said he expects his team to have an ‘’awareness of the things you talk about.’’ It’s not a matter of cracking the whip. He’s hoping his team responds to the moment.
‘’We expect a hungry team [in the Blues],’’ Quenneville said. ‘’Excitement in that building. You know the fans are going to be into it. Bring back rivalries through the years between blues and Blackhawks haven’t seen that series in a long time. Should make for a great matchup right off the bat.
‘’Players bring it. They feel it. They’ve waited a long time to get to the playoffs. We’re all excited about this time of the year. Games are more meaningful and they welcome the excitement that comes with it.’’
That the Blackhawks do not have home-ice advantage only adds to the degree-of-difficulty. The Hawks are the best playoff road team in the NHL over the past four seasons (16-12, with four losses in overtime). They’ve won at least one road game in their last 10 playoff series. But they have lost the first road game in their last seven playoff series. It’s as if it takes then a game to adjust to enemy territory — the home crowd and the energy it brings to their opponent — before their will to win takes over.
‘’We’ve been a good team on the road,’’ forward Patrick Kane said. ‘’We’ll try to take advantage of the games we have here at home but we feel going in there, that it’s especially important to play good in those first two games and try to come back hopefully with a 2-0 lead.
‘’It seems like home-ice, especially in a series like this can be an advantage. But we’ll try to eliminate that right away.’’