After eliminating the Minnesota Wild 4-1 in their Western Conference quarterfinal series with a 5-1 victory in Game 5, the Blackhawks expect the degree of difficulty to rise, perhaps significantly, in the second round. And they're expecting to raise the level of their game as well.
''I think we can play better -- that's something to look at as a positive,'' forward Patrick Kane said when asked if anything from the Minnesota series will carry over to the next round. ''I know [the Wild] had some goaltender problems down the stretch. I still feel we could have played better as a team. That's something we can look at and say, we come away with a 4-1 win and you didn't play your best. You've got to feel good about that.''
Captain Jonathan Toews, who like Kane did not score a goal in the Minnesota series, surely has to be looking forward to being a bigger factor in the next round. He had two assists against the Wild, both in Game 5. But he was more concerned with the team raising its level of play.
''We did a lot of good things this series. We can be happy with that,'' Toews said. ''But we know going forward that it's only going to get tougher, that we have to be better. And we'll just keep stepping up our game and look at the positives from this series and be prepared for whatever's next.''
Patrick Sharp, who scored five goals in the opening series against the Wild, said the Hawks start over with the next series, but liked the fact that the Hawks were the same team against the Wild that they had been during the regular season.
''I think you start anew [in the next round],'' Sharp said. ''You take positives, whatever you can from this series -- obviously to win against a good team like Minnesota feels good. There was no panic in our game. Much like the regular season we had some close games, some overtime games and we just kept playing the same way. That's something we can be proud about. But hopefully we can find that other level, because we're going to need it the further we go.''
The Hawks advanced past the first round for the first time since winning the Cup in 2010. They lost to the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks 4-3 in 2011 and lost to the third-seeded Phoenix Coyotes 4-2 in 2012. The 2011 Canucks reached the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost to the Bruins 4-3. The 2012 Coyotes lost to the eventual Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals.
''Some people might think that two years in a row to go out in the first round is maybe a mental thing that got to us. I wouldn't see it that way,'' Toews said. ''We lost to two really good teams the last two years. They did a lot of good things and earned those wins against us.
But there still is some redeeming value to those disappointing losses, Toews said.
''You learn from tough losses like that,'' he said. ''I think you saw it in this series. Most of all you saw it in the regular season that we've learned a lot from the past two seasons and what we need to do differently as a team. We need to keep applying those rules and the way we play the game as a team.''
Toews said he is happy to get a few extra days without any games before the next series. But it's not like he's going to take a break. The player who almost always has his game-face on, still has his game-face on.
''It's nice to not have to go back there [Minnesota],'' he said. ''We'll just stay healthy for the time being and get oursevles as physically and mentally ready as we can regardless of who we're playing. Stay in playoff mode. No time to let our mind kind of drift off to other things. We have to stay with the task at hand.''