(MCT) CHICAGO — It was a series that was grueling physically and mentally.
For the Blackhawks, their stirring comeback to advance past the Red Wings to the Western Conference finals was one for the ages.
It’s also old news.
After a day to rest and reflect on what they accomplished in rallying from a 3-1 series deficit to knock off their Original Six rivals in the Game 7 on Wednesday night, it was back to work Friday to prepare for the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings in Game 1 Saturday at the United Center.
“It’s not going to get any easier, that’s for sure,” Hawks winger Patrick Sharp said. “Hopefully, we can raise our level.”
The Hawks realize they have accomplished little in the grand scheme, with two series victories and two more remaining if they want to hoist the Stanley Cup for the second time in four seasons.
“For most of the guys in this room, we know what it’s about,” center Dave Bolland said. “For the older guys who have been there and done it we can speak up and let guys know this is only one more round. There are still two more to get to the big (trophy).”
So the Wings series is history and the Kings figure to be the hardest challenge yet for the team that captured the Presidents’ Trophy after racing to the NHL’s best regular-season record. The Kings are coming off an equally hard-fought seven-game series against the Sharks.
“It’s not going to be a problem to refocus,” Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said.
The Hawks won two of the three regular-season meetings between the teams but that matters little as they will face off in the playoffs for the first time since 1974.
“They won the Cup last year for a reason, and they have the same team,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “We know we have our work cut out for us. We’re going to need to be at our best.”
The Hawks closed out the Wings in front of a raucous United Center crowd and want a fast start in back-to-back games at home to kick off this series. The Kings won all four of their games at the Staples Center in dispatching the Sharks.
“We weren’t watching too closely, but we realize how important home ice was to that team,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We want to use it to our advantage as well.”
With defending Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick in goal, offensive weapons Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Dustin Penner, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown and a strong defense led by Drew Doughty, the Kings are a formidable opponent.
“All around, they play a great game,” Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford said. “Offensively they can score, really open it up. Obviously, they’re great defensively and (have) one of the best goalies in the game.
“We just have to worry about our game, keep playing the same way, keep playing hard and keep making plays.”
Added defenseman Brent Seabrook, who scored in overtime of the Hawks’ 2-1 victory over the Wings in Game 7: “They’re a great team; they don’t give up much (and) Quick is unbelievable. The defense and the forwards help him out quite a bit. We need to play our game, play with speed and come ready to play.”