The Blackhawks’ recognition of their Western Conference Final victory was jovial but not overly celebratory.
It wasn’t so much a case of been here, done that. The appreciation was certainly there. At the same time, there was a realization: another Western Conference title, this one claimed with their 5-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 on Saturday night, is great. But the Blackhawks aren’t here for conference crowns.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” said Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks, who will head to their third Stanley Cup Final in the past six seasons. “It’s a great step, especially from where we were last year. We were in this position last year, we didn’t get the job done and then we have another opportunity a year later. For that to come about, I think everyone just wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and not have the same feeling we had last year. We put ourselves in a position to start a new series. It’s going to be a fun one.”
That series, against the Tampa Bay Lightning, begins on Wednesday at Amalie Arena. The Blackhawks exit a very physical series against the Ducks and will likely enter a very speedy one against the Lightning, who eliminated in the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final on Friday night.
But right now back to the Blackhawks, many of whom talked of the bitter taste they had when they lost to the Los Angeles Kings in last year’s conference final. It left them wanting more and that mindset was evident against the Ducks, especially in the final two-plus games.
“It was a tough thing to visit, a real negative moment and a real hard thing to accomplish,” coach Joel Quenneville said of last spring. “Getting that far, it’s an amazing journey, a tough battle; there’s a lot of tough ones. Then you have to get ready in training camp and think, ‘Wow, you know how long it is to get to where we got?’ It’s an eternity. Commend the guys’ perseverance, finding different ways [through] different challenges.”
Some of those challenges happened during the regular season. Down the stretch, the Blackhawks weren’t playing their best hockey. They lost four in a row and were struggling to score. But as Toews said on Saturday night, the Blackhawks didn’t have to be the best team in the Western Conference. They needed to get into the postseason and go from there.
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“We never really stopped believing in ourselves,” Patrick Sharp added. “We were hearing a lot of things about our team in the regular season. Seems like we put things back together at the right time and we're back in the finals with this group. We know what we have in this room, we believe in each other, webelieve in the organization and it really doesn’t matter what other people say.”
The Blackhawks weren’t happy with how things ended last year. They cleared that conference-final hurdle but they’re not satisfied with just that, either. They appreciate what they’ve done thus far but they won’t be completely content until they get another Cup.
“It’s a great feeling to close out a series against a team like that and give ourselves a chance to go back to the Stanley Cup Final,” Toews said. “We’ll enjoy that [Saturday night], enjoy this win. But it won’t be long before we move on and be ready for the next task.”