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Blackhawks looking to hoist more meaningful trophy

The Blackhawks' Bryan Bickell (top) Viktor Stalberg (middle) Andrew Shaw (bottom begcelebratiafter Bickell's goal first overtime gave Hawks 2-1 win.

The Blackhawks' Bryan Bickell (top), Viktor Stalberg (middle) and Andrew Shaw (bottom begin the celebration after Bickell's goal in the first overtime gave the Hawks a 2-1 win. The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Minnesota Wild 2-1 in overtime in their first game of the first playoff series April 30, 2013 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 2, 2013 6:34AM



The Blackhawks say that, right now, their fantastic regular season carries about as much weight as lint.

Jonathan Toews says it. So does Duncan Keith. Patrick Kane’s playoff mullet agrees, though his locks could be saying, “If Andre Agassi’s hairstyle was wrong in the 1990s, I don’t want to be right!”

You can’t blame the Hawks for downplaying how well they did from January through April. They don’t want to put any more pressure on themselves than is already there. The NHL playoffs are unpredictable enough that looking back — or ahead — doesn’t accomplish much.

But, sorry, the regular season means a lot when you win the Presidents’ Trophy for racking up the most points in the league. It means that anything less than a Stanley Cup being hoisted will be a disappointment. It means that not making the Stanley Cup Finals will be a colossal failure. Is that unfair? Is that piling on too much pressure? Too bad. It’s what comes with having the best regular-season record in the NHL. It’s what happens if you want to be great.

The Hawks opened the playoffs with a 2-1 victory over the eighth-seeded Wild on Tuesday night, thanks to Bryan Bickell’s game-winner in overtime. Pressure? What pressure?

Goalie Corey Crawford was spectacular, building on his regular-season success. That might shut up some of his internet critics, the ones who believe he’s soft, though I doubt it. They must have been cackling when the Wild took a 1-0 lead on its first shot of the game, a wrist shot by someone named Cal Clutterbuck, which would seem to be punishment enough. But Crawford went on to make some great saves, the biggest in overtime on Zach Parise.

“That was a crazy (game),’’ Crawford said. “What a big win. I don’t know what to say.’’

The United Center was predictably crazed. That’s because Blackhawks fans see the same thing: a very talented team that started the season with a streak of 24 games with at least a point. They see a team that set a franchise record with 11 straight victories. They see a team that has every right to think about winning the title.

The regular season is not meaningless right now. It’s there to offer confidence and context. It’s there as a reminder of all the good things the team has going for it — the four lines, the team speed, the penalty killing, the stellar defense and the great goaltending.

It’s there to say, you really should win this thing.

“It’s inevitable that people are going to think that,’’ Kane said. “It’s not a bad thing for us. We put ourselves in that situation.’’

You don’t have to look far to find top seeds that have crashed spectacularly in the postseason. In 2009-10, the Capitals lost to eighth-seeded Montreal. Last season, Presidents’ Trophy winner Vancouver lost in the first round to the eighth-seeded Kings, who ended up winning the Stanley Cup. Eight of the past nine winners of the Presidents’ Trophy didn’t win the Stanley Cup.

But just because history is full of upsets doesn’t make those upsets any less embarrassing.

If having the best record in hockey is a curse come playoff time, well, give me the curse. It means you’re doing a lot of things right. I’m not sure what the alternative is supposed to be for those fans frightened by the weight of the Presidents’ Trophy. Should the Hawks have tried to lose games to finish second in the points race?

That kind of superstition is from another time. As we speak, I picture some Hawks fans stirring eye of newt into a bubbling cauldron. This team is too good to get caught up in that stuff. On the other hand, hockey is the most capricious of the four major sports. The puck does indeed bounce strangely at times. You might have noticed that it’s not round.

Following the theme of this being the Hawks’ season, Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom got hurt during warm-ups. Very nice of him. A cakewalk, right? Um, no. Josh Harding, who started just three games this season, was excellent.

After a slow start, the Hawks ended up putting 37 shots on him. It was as if they remembered how good they are and how hard they play.

“I think everything gets washed away right now,’’ Keith said of the regular season. “That’s where it’s at. Right now, we’re going to be in a dogfight against Minnesota.’’

Yeah, but the big dog will win.



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