Toews believes Blackhawks ‘have that feeling again’ heading into playoffs

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The Chicago Blackhawks have been here so many times before. They’re 16 postseason wins away from a fourth Stanley Cup title in eight years, and their veteran core knows it has the talent and the experience to survive the two-month playoff grind.

Nobody else in the Western Conference playoff picture can say any of that.

None of the other seven teams has won a recent Stanley Cup. In fact, only three of those franchises have raised the Cup at all, and only two players were in their current uniform for it: Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who won their rings a decade ago.

So is it Chicago’s conference crown to lose when postseason play gets underway Wednesday?

Watch Blackhawks vs. Predators on NBC Sports

The top-seeded Blackhawks have been around for too long to believe anything matters except Game 1 on Thursday night against Nashville.

“I think that energy, that ambition and motivation is back,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. “We have that feeling again, that every single moment and every single game matters. It’s a lot of fun to play at this time of the year. It’s why we work all year to get to this point, and as we have said in the past, the real season begins. Obviously, we want to see what we are made of, and I think we are all pretty confident what we are able to do.”

The rest of the West is about to find out if it measures up.

Here’s what to watch in the four first-round series beginning this week:

BLACKHAWKS vs PREDATORS

Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa are just part of the veteran group that propelled the Blackhawks down the stretch to the West’s top record and the NHL’s third-best performance since New Year’s Day (58 points).

Yet these Blackhawks have been refreshed by an infusion of youngsters hoping for their first taste of Stanley Cup glory, most notably Artemi Panarin. The high-scoring Russian is in only his second NHL season, and his first postseason run ended abruptly last year with Chicago’s first-round loss to St. Louis.

The Predators were Chicago’s first-round postseason opponents before the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup title runs in 2010 and 2015. Nashville’s record (41-29-12) was nearly identical to last season’s mark, but the Predators have made one big change: P.K. Subban replaced Shea Weber as their top defenseman this season, headlining a blue-line corps including Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis in front of goalie Pekka Rinne.

Chicago knows that if Rinne plays at his all-world best, even the Blackhawks could have trouble scoring enough to win.

WILD vs BLUES

Minnesota was cruising toward the Central Division title before a late-season slump, while the Blues surged into the postseason after firing coach Ken Hitchcock and trading top defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

Both teams are regular playoff qualifiers, but both are hoping for a breakthrough this spring after years of disappointment. Keep an eye on Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk, whose proficiency against Vladimir Tarasenko and the Blues’ scorers could determine this series.

DUCKS vs FLAMES

Anybody who is aware of the Flames’ 25-game regular-season losing streak at Honda Center could be excused for thinking the Ducks have an astonishing home-ice advantage in this matchup of the five-time defending Pacific Division champions and the West’s top wild card.

The Flames are loaded with young talent, but this series rests heavily on Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan Kesler and the rest of Anaheim’s veteran core, which simply hasn’t been able to finish: The Ducks have lost a Game 7 at home in each of the last four postseasons.

The Ducks streaked into the postseason on an 11-0-3 roll, and they have more talent and experience. But after Anaheim’s first-round flop against Nashville last season, the Flames realize they might be facing some sitting Ducks in their quest for a playoff breakthrough.

OILERS vs SHARKS

Connor McDavid will make his Stanley Cup playoff debut at Rogers Place’s first postseason game on Wednesday night, and the hockey world can’t wait to see what he does next.

McDavid already won the NHL scoring title and led Edmonton back to the postseason after a 10-year absence. The Oilers even finished above the Sharks, who have much the same team that won the West last season.

San Jose might be far from full strength: Centers Joe Thornton and Logan Couture are out with injuries, and it’s unclear when they’ll return. But Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski are ready to apply their full range of playoff knowledge against the upstart Oilers and McDavid, who might be at the start of the best chapter yet in his remarkable story.

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Adam Larsson has become an ‘anchor’ for the Oilers

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Last summer’s Taylor Hall-for-Adam Larsson swap wasn’t popular in Edmonton, and it probably still isn’t now, but it likely stings a lot less today.

Larsson came up huge in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series against the Anaheim Ducks, as he scored a pair of goals and an assist in the 5-3 victory.

The 24-year-old’s first goal extended Edmonton’s lead to 3-1 in the third period, while his second tally gave them a 4-3 lead (it proved to be the game-winner) with under five minutes remaining in regulation.

Larsson finished Game 1 with a plus-2 rating, two shots on goal, three hits and two blocked shots in 18:47 of ice time (it’s the first time he’s played less than 21 minutes this postseason).

He now has four points in seven games during these playoffs, and he’s averaging 22:41 of ice time.

“We needed to improve our blue line and we needed to have an anchor back there and Larsson has become that,” said head coach Todd McLellan after his team’s win in Game 1, per the Edmonton Sun. “We could have kept floundering without fixing that hole and I think Peter Chiarelli and his staff did a tremendous job of addressing that issue. What he did to change the complexion of our team took a lot of courage. That’s not an easy thing to do when you are trading a player of Taylor’s caliber and popularity.”

Of course, we’ll never know if the Oilers would’ve made it this far had they not made that blockbuster deal last off-season, but it’s a good sign that Larsson has turned into a solid option for a team that was clearly lacking talent on defense.

Game 2 of the series will take place in Anaheim on Friday night at 10:30 p.m. ET. Don’t forget, you can stream the game via the NBC Sports app, which you can find right here.

Related:

Todd McLellan named finalist for 2017 Jack Adams Award

Oilers showed off their depth beyond McDavid in beating Sharks

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Thursday, April 27

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Last night, the Western Conference kicked off the second round of 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and tonight, it’ll be the Eastern Conference teams going head-to-head in a pair of great matchups.

Here’s what you need to know:

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: CNBC (Stream online here)

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

PHT Morning Skate: The top 5 second-round matchups since 1980

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–Yesterday was the start of second-round action in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so Sean McIndoe breaks down his top five second-round matchups since 1980. The most recent series on the list was the clash between the Blackhawks and Canucks in 2010, while the oldest series on the list 1988 battle between the Oilers and Flames. (The Hockey News)

–Rod Stewart was incredibly proud of his own, Liam, when he scored his first international goal for Great Britain during the Division 1 Group B World Hockey Championship. Stewart took to instagram to show just how thrilled he was about his son’s accomplishment. (Sportsnet)

–The Nashville Predators took down the St. Louis Blues, 4-3, in Game 1 of their second-round series thanks to a phenomenal effort from P.K. Subban. You can watch the highlights from Game 1 by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Speaking of Subban, he sat down with NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire after last night’s win. Subban talked about overcoming St. Louis’ strong third-period push, the scary injury to Kevin Fiala and what it means to be a leader on a championship team. But on a lighter note, Subban also complimented McGuire on “getting better looking every day”. (NBC Sports)

Jarome Iginla will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The 39-year-old still searching for his first Stanley Cup, which could be a big factor in his potential decision to hold off retirement. But here’s an interesting bit of information. Iginla, who suited up for the Bruins a couple of years ago, has reportedly purchased a $4.5 million home in the Boston area. Could he be headed back there? (WEEI.com)

–We’ve heard this story before, but it sounds like Ilya Kovalchuk is interested in coming back to the NHL. If he’s serious about returning to North America, there will be no shortage of suitors vying for his services. The Hockey News looks at some perfect landing spots for the the 34-year-old sniper. (The Hockey News)

–Unfortunately, Pierre LeBrun was let go by ESPN on Wednesday, but one of his final stories was a really good one. LeBrun mentions the possibility of some fireworks going off during the off-season thanks to the expansion draft and a lack of increase in the salary cap. LeBrun writes: “So much of it comes back to what decisions the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild make leading up to the expansion draft. The Ducks and Wild can’t protect all of their depth on defense, but there’s no way they’re just going to let the new Vegas Knights take a good blueliner for free in the expansion draft, either. I think they will either made a side deal with Vegas or simply trade whichever defenseman they can’t protect in the draft to another NHL team.” (ESPN)

Video: Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler lose cool in scuffle with Kassian, Oilers

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In the first round, Zack Kassian reminded the hockey world why he came into the league with considerable hype as a first-rounder, as he scored some big goals for the Edmonton Oilers.

Of course, there’s a reason why Kassian has 522 penalty minutes in 313 career regular-season games. He can be a nasty presence who straddles the line.

He did as much late in Game 1, getting into it with Ryan Kesler, and then things really got out of hand. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and others were involved in “histrionics.”

(Who wants to start a Patreon to find out what Getzlaf and Andrej Sekera were saying to each other, by the way?)

It looks like the players involved were only whistled for roughing minors rather than fighting majors. This caps a tough night for Anaheim, who lost 5-3 and saw Kevin Bieksa suffer a troubling lower-body injury.