General manager Stan Bowman talked in late January of the Blackhawks' season at that point. It was pretty good, but he figured it was only a matter of time before veterans and youth gelled and it led to bigger and better things.
Well, here we are, with the Blackhawks earning the No. 1 seed in the West and home ice through the western portion of the playoffs. The work Bowman and the Blackhawks have done up to this point has worked.
Now to see how it comes together in the postseason.
Bowman talked to the media on Thursday morning prior to the Blackhawks hosting the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their first-round series. Bowman said he was as optimistic about this team as he has previous ones.
"We've put ourselves in a good position but none of that really matters at this point. We've got to get out there and earn it, starting tonight," Bowman said. "I like the way our team looks. I think that we've shown we can play really good hockey when we play together as a team. And you have to get out there and do it."
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The biggest question entering this season was how the Blackhawks' rookies would adapt, and how long it would take. When Bowman talked in January, they were playing pretty well. They became even bigger players in the Blackhawks' success after that. Still, the stage is that much bigger now, and the inexperience factor at this one could loom large. But Bowman thinks the rookies can handle it.
"They are technically still rookies. But they've played, most of them have played all year in the NHL. They have not been through a playoff run here in Chicago but they've all been through big runs. Nick Schmaltz won the national championship last year. He was part of a team that did something special in pressure moments. It's not like these guys have never played in pressure situations, so you have to give them a chance to do that," Bowman said. "You have to be an NHL playoff rookie at some point and I think they'll get through it fine."
These Blackhawks are a mix of veterans who have been here a few times and rookies who haven't. Through most of the season, however, the number of NHL years accrued usually didn't matter: everyone on the team contributed at some point. Bowman believes it can continue in the playoffs but the task gets that much tougher.
"We don't take anything for granted," Bowman said. "We had a very good regular season. I'm proud of what we accomplished. But now we start over. And everyone starts with a clean slate."