As you’d expect, it’s what the Chicago Blackhawks feel they have after sneaking into the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs on the last day of the regular season, after getting unexpected help knocking out the Dallas Stars from a non-playoff Minnesota Wild team. Nonetheless, they’re in.
“We’d play today, we’re so excited,” Jonathan Toews said on Monday before the team flew to Vancouver to begin the Western Conference playoffs. “You go from the feeling that your season is over and you don’t know what to do with yourself for the next couple months... There is something that comes from making the playoffs from the last game of the year. We’re excited, we feel like we have second life.”
The narrative emerging from the Chicago side of things is pretty simple: the pressure is now off.
“We have to feel like there is less pressure on us than on them, but at the same time can we can look at what happened Sunday as a sign that it’s a second chance,” Toews said.
More than one player held that sentiment and it makes sense. The Hawks fulfilled their pressure-filled season by making the playoffs -- albeit barely -- the year after winning the Cup. It would have been an embarrassment not to.
But no one will cry “underachievers” if they don’t win it all again. The same can’t be said for the mighty Canucks, who rolled through the regular season but have some postseason demons to exorcise. It makes the Hawks the underdogs.
“It’s nice,” Patrick Kane said. “It’s a little bit different. We kind of had that a couple of years ago. It’s nice to have that back a little bit.”
Two postseasons ago, the Hawks rode that underdog status to the conference finals only to lose to a tough Detroit team. This time it’s the Canucks who are on top coming off a 117-point season.
“We’re going to have to be good, we’re going to have to be great,” Duncan Keith said. “Let’s go have fun and be excited. The intensity gets picked up another notch.”
Though the Hawks are clearly underdogs, they are bolstered by one prospect which rings true.
“Every time we’ve played some good games against top-end teams you see what we’re capable of doing,” Toews said.
And that includes Vancouver. The Hawks outplayed them twice on the road, though they lost one of those games, while Roberto Luongo stole one at the United Center, or else the Hawks could easily have been 3-1 or even 4-0 against them.
But that’s looking at the glass being half-full. The bottom line is Vancouver won 10 more games than Chicago and that has to be good for something.
The short-version strategy to beat the Canucks will be to make them play in their own zone, especially the Sedins. They can’t score if they’re playing defense.
But for now, the Hawks will savor getting that second life. The next question is, are they just happy to be there or do they have a desire for more?
“We want to make the most of the opportunity,” Keith said bluntly.
As coach Joel Quenneville said both Sunday night and Monday afternoon, “now the fun starts.”
He couldn’t be more right.