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Blackhawks Tue Apr 14 2009

Blackhawks Playoff Primer

The Blackhawks knew they were going to the postseason for the first time in seven years after clinching April 3. Now they have an opponent in the Calgary Flames and home-ice after wrapping up the last weekend of the season with a home-and-home sweep of the defending Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.

Thursday marks the return of playoff hockey to the United Center, and the Hawks should be happy to be facing the Flames, having swept the season series from the Flames in convincing fashion, including outscoring them 11-3 at home. Calgary has also been beset by injuries, even playing three players short to finish the season. While many of the Flames are expected back once the puck drops Thursday, most will still be nursing their wounds and the team will have had little time to get their rhythm back.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks enter the postseason playing superbly. After struggling through March and finishing under .500 for the month, the Hawks are getting hot when it matters, going 6-0-1 in their final seven games. Even more important, goalie Nicolai Khabibulin has been playing some of his best hockey in net. A hot goalie can push teams deep in the postseason, a fact Khabibulin is well versed in, having lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Cup in 2004 over the Flames. Khabi has been Calgary's worst enemy, posting a career 22-5-2 record over the team. Although forward Patrick Sharp sat the last five games, he's slated to play and the Hawks will have their full lineup ready to go. Chicago has a well-rounded team that can put points on the board from all four lines, and the defense has the ability to control the game with their speed and breakout abilities.

However, while on paper things tend to favor the Blackhawks, the Flames do have an advantage in experience. For many of the Hawks, who are the league's youngest team, the playoffs are foreign territory, as the games become tighter and more physical. Calgary has made the postseason five years running, including a run to the Cup finals in 2004, though they've not advanced past the first round since. Still, the Flames, led by Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla, one of the league's strongest forwards, are battle-tested in all a seven-game series entails. Although the Blackhawks struggled at times against more aggressive opponents this season, if they are able to control the puck and play their style of game, the results could be an easy series victory.

One thing for certain is the Hawks will have a full house behind them in full-throated fervor, after leading the league in attendance at 22,247 per game. The UC has been sold out every game this season, and come Thursday, the Madhouse on Madison will be reborn.

Full schedule for the quarterfinal series is after the jump.

Game 1 Thu., April 16, 7:30pm @ United Center
Game 2 Sat., April 18, 8pm @ United Center
Game 3 Mon., April 20, 8:30pm @ Pengrowth Saddledome
Game 4 Wed., April 22, 9pm @ Pengrowth Saddledome
Game 5* Sat., April 25, 8pm @ United Center
Game 6* Mon., April 27, TBA @ Pengrowth Saddledome
Game 7* Wed., April 29, TBA @ United Center

All times are Central. Games 5, 6 and 7 are if necessary. All games will be on Comcast SportsNet locally, and WGN radio.

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