CHICAGO – If the NHL playoffs have proved anything in recent history, it is that a No. 1 seed has no guarantee of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals, let alone getting out of the first round.
The Chicago Blackhawks are the top seed in the Western Conference as the NHL playoffs gets underway Tuesday night when they will face the eighth-seeded Wild.
Chicago is wary of what happened last year, when the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings rolled through the playoffs en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
“Ten years ago, if you’re a one versus an eight, you had a really good chance of winning the first round,” Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said. “It seems like it’s changed a lot. So these teams are scary teams, it’s almost like they have nothing to lose.”
Chicago finished the regular season 36-7-5 for a league-high 77 points, winning the Presidents’ Trophy. The Blackhawks got off to a scorching 21-0-3 start. But now it’s a new season.
“Everyone knows when you look at how the playoffs have gone that past couple years, if you’re the first or the eighth seed, it doesn’t really matter,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “We know that being first in the regular season doesn’t mean anything. For these guys in this locker room, the playoffs is what we worked to get to. Our real season starts now.”
Three No. 1 seeds have fallen in the first round in the past four years, including Vancouver last season. It has been a trend in the past 10 years for a top seed to get knocked out in the first or second round, and two No. 1 seeds haven’t met for the Stanley Cup since Colorado beat New Jersey in 2001.
“I think that parity in our league is probably one thing,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “The closeness of the teams, the series, there’s not that much deviation from teams being first or eighth place. L.A. got on a roll at the right time last year. That gives you an idea anybody can win, anybody can beat anybody.”
Respect for the Wild
The Blackhawks won the season series with the Wild 2-0-1, but Chicago players have lot of respect for their playoff opponent.
“We feel that they’re a better team than an eighth seed, so it’s going to be a good series,” Kane said. “It’s not a pushover by any means.”
Added Toews: “We’re very conscious of their top players. [Zach] Parise, [Ryan] Suter and [Mikko] Koivu are guys we have to be aware of. For the most part we’re sticking to what we do well as a team.”
Quenneville wants to build on what got his team where it is.
“We’re going into these playoffs knowing anything can happen, we’re very respectful of our opponent,” Quenneville said. “If you look at their lineup, it’s a dangerous team, but we’re going to concentrate on what we have to do.”
After winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, Chicago lost in the first round the next two seasons. Possibly suffering from a championship hangover, the Blackhawks barely qualified for the playoffs in 2011, losing to Vancouver in seven games. Last year, they were eliminated by Phoenix in six.
“The one year against Vancouver, I didn’t feel like we had a great start to that series,” Quenneville said. “How we worked ourselves back and had a chance to win Game 7 showed that winning the Cup the year before, we still had it in us and were capable of doing it.
“Then last year, the first five games were overtime. That was a close series and was disappointing. I think this year we’re deeper and I’d have to say the motivation is definitely in the right place.”