For Blackhawks’ young players, familiarity breeds content
BY BEN MEYER-ABBOTT email@example.com April 8, 2012 8:16PM
Viktor Stalberg, colliding with playoff opponent Mike Smith, figures to be more confident in his second playoff series. “It’s a different game,” he said, “and just being part of it [last year] helped out.” | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
BLACKHAWKS VS. COYOTES
All games on CSN;
G1: Thursday, at Phoenix, 9
G2: Saturday, at Phoenix, 9
G3: April 17, at Hawks, 8
G4: April 19, at Hawks, 7
G5*: April 21, at Phoenix, 9
G6*: April 23, at Hawks, TBD
G7*: April 25, at Phoenix, TBD
Updated: May 10, 2012 8:15AM
One year removed from his first taste of the postseason, defenseman Nick Leddy is looking forward to a more familiar experience this time around.
“Last year, being the playoffs for the first time, I was a little nervous at the beginning,” said Leddy, who at 21 has emerged as an important presence on the Blackhawks’ blue line in his second season. “Thank God I had [former teammate] Brian Campbell sitting next to me because he saw I was little nervous and said, ‘Hey, just relax. It’s another game.’ ”
When the Blackhawks begin their first-round playoff series Thursday against the Phoenix Coyotes, Leddy will be part of a notable group of young players who, despite their age, already have experienced the elevated speed, intensity and pressure of the postseason.
Leddy, along with Marcus Kruger, Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell and goalie Corey Crawford, bring the lessons learned from a nearly historic comeback in the Hawks’ seven-game series against the Vancouver Canucks last year in their postseason debuts.
“When you go out there first time playing in a playoff atmosphere, it’s different,” Stalberg said. “It’s a different game and just being part of it, even for one round, helped out. We know a little bit more about what to expect this year. There aren’t as many things running around in your mind going into it.”
In other words, this isn’t their first rodeo.
“You know how it’s going to be,” said Kruger, who had nearly as many postseason games (five) as regular-season games (seven) last season. “It’s the same game, and you play against the same players you did during the regular season. The first time, it’s easy to forget that.”
There are two things each player said they haven’t forgotten.
The first is the long flights and time-zone changes typically required of Western Conference teams and the physical and mental toll they take.
“When we played Vancouver last year, the travel was killer,” Crawford said. “Now you know and you make sure to get the rest that you need at the right time because of those long flights back and forth.”
The second lesson the Canucks series drove home was that no matter how dire the situation, it takes just one good game or one good period to turn things around.
“The biggest thing it taught me was anything can happen,” Leddy said. “We get down 3-0 to Vancouver, and then we win three games and then go to OT in the seventh. Anything can happen.”
Said Crawford: “You just learn that you don’t stop playing until the series is over. Teams play hard, they battle, and if you’re not playing at your best, there’s a chance they’ll come back on you.”
It’s the kind of common sense that remains an abstract notion until you’ve been on a team that drags itself back into a series the way the Hawks did last year.
Now these young but experienced players are confident knowing what’s required of them when the level of play goes up a notch. It’s knowledge they’re happy to share with the Hawks’ newest crop of playoff rookies.
“If I see [Andrew] Shaw or some of the other guys like [Jimmy] Hayes, [Dylan] Olsen or [Brandon] Bollig are a little nervous, I’ll go up and talk to them and give them the same advice I got last year,” Leddy said. “Well, maybe not Shaw. He probably won’t be nervous.”