By Chris Kuc
Tribune staff reporter
April 13, 2009
It was a season that featured the firing of a popular head coach after only four games, a franchise-record nine-game winning streak, an outdoor contest played on a baseball diamond and the clinching of the Hawks' first playoff berth since 2002.
Consider those learning experiences for later this week, when what players often refer to as "the real season" — the Stanley Cup playoffs — begins.
First, however, the Hawks had a little unfinished business to attend to, as they defeated the Detroit Red Wings 3-0 Sunday in front of a roaring crowd of 22,376 at the United Center.
Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin provided one of the season's top performances by stifling the high-octane Wings with 37 saves in his third shutout of the season and 41st of his career. Andrew Ladd, Jonathan Toews and Dave Bolland provided the scoring as the Hawks finished the regular season 46-24-12.
"We got the first step; that was making the playoffs and home-ice [advantage]," center Sammy Pahlsson said. "Now we have to be our best. It doesn't matter what we did before this. It's all about the playoffs."
Pahlsson should know. He is one of three Hawks to win a Stanley Cup, having done so with Anaheim in 2007. The others are Ladd, with Carolina in '06, and Khabibulin, with Tampa Bay in '04.
The Hawks have a few days to prepare mentally and physically before playing host to Game 1 of their first-round series against the Calgary Flames at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The teams have met three times in the playoffs, most recently in 1996 when the Hawks swept Calgary.
The Hawks' momentum is rolling. With their weekend sweep of the Wings, they have won six of seven and have accumulated at least one point in 12 of their last 14.
"We're definitely playing the way we want to," said Toews, the Hawks' 20-year-old captain. "It's not time to reinvent the wheel just because it's playoff time.
"We have to do the right things as a team. It's time to play your best hockey, and I think we're all ready to do that."
The concern is that the Hawks are too young and too inexperienced to succeed in the postseason. Most of the Flames are battled-tested, having reached the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season and played in the finals as recently as 2004 — when they fell to Khabibulin and the Lightning. The Flames, however, have lost in the first round the last four years.
"They have a lot of experience there [and] have one of the best goaltenders in the league ( Miikka Kiprusoff)," said Khabibulin, who improved to 25-8-7.
"We had a great regular season," Havlat said. "We were battling for home-ice advantage, and we got it."
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