Monday, May 24, 20103:37 PM
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.comAs seen in two previous playoff wins over the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks, the Chicago Blackhawks have practiced long-term vision on the 2010 playoffs.
Such thinking allowed for smiles and congratulations at the end of the clubs Western Conference finals sweep over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, but the realization ran rampant that the teams true goal is still four wins away.
The dressing room postgame Sunday was all hustle and bustle, but that was mainly due to a torrent of media let into the room to record the Hometown Heroes every reaction and memory. The players themselves were decidedly muted and reflective, particularly veterans like Patrick Sharp and John Madden, who were even more soft-spoken than usual.
We understand that theres been a lot of hype over this team here in Chicago, said Madden, a veteran of two Stanley Cup wins with the New Jersey Devils. Weve still got to focus. Whatever happens in the East, we go back to work in preparation.
Patrick Kane, speaking freely with the media for an extended stretch, fielded questions that ranged everywhere from whether the tension was palpable on ice (one third-period shot I let loose on so hard I thought I might kill somebody) to whether hell play his own NHL 10 video game to prep for the Philadelphia Flyers or Montreal Canadiens (Ive been playing Mario Kart like crazy, thats all the Blackhawks play). He also pulled back the curtain on how challenging the playoff grind can be, and how much relief a few days off could provide.
Im just going to relax, he said. Im pretty tired right now. Even the celebration takes something out of you. Its all emotionally draining.
The celebration -- too much of it -- can be a concern. Kane, Brian Campbell and other Blackhawks have admitted that last years team was a little surprised to play deep into the playoffs and were happy with earlier-stage success. But nine-time Stanley Cup winner and winningest coach in NHL history, Scotty Bowman, sees two sides of celebration.
It can work both ways, said Bowman, now a senior advisor to the Blackhawks. Youve got to keep your priorities in order, but playing it too straight doesnt work, either.
Strangely enough, the solemnity that Chicago is practicing today has been a hallmark of rookie Antti Niemis approach all season long. The ascendant star goalie has been humble to the core, refusing even to engage in so much as phone calls with family or friends back at home in Finland during the WCF (finally, now we can enjoy talking a little, he said with a smile after Sundays game). His game plan for the run-up to the Finals was par for the course.
I have no idea how long well have to celebrate the win, he said. We shouldnt be celebrating too long, though. Theres still more to play.
Not to say that everythings structured and planned out in Chicago. Game 4 and WCF hero Dustin Byfuglien was asked about Stanley Cup preparation before he had much of a chance to enjoy getting there, and his speculation was as good as anyones. Im guessing the trainers are going to have something going on, dont you think?
The Blackhawks arent exactly making it up as they go along, but playing into June is uncharted territory for this generation of Redshirts. And given the solemnity theyre approaching the Finals, poor preparation and loss of focus wont be their downfall.
Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.