By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Such a fitting image that embodied the Blackhawks’ collective mindset could be found inside the home locker room at United Center following Chicago’s 3-1 playoff-clinching victory over Vancouver on Thursday night.
Each locker stall was empty, not a shin pad in sight. Heck, there was hardly a player to be found.
Business as usual for the Blackhawks, who have larger aspirations than just making the playoffs.
Of course, there wasn’t going to be a champagne bottle popped for earning one of 16 spots in the postseason. But there also wasn’t a high five or fist bump to be exchanged. On the floor — surrounding that famed logo planted in the center of that locker room — sat bags packed of equipment, as the players were readying for their a turnaround trip to Buffalo.
“We should be happy clinching a playoff spot, but we have some work to do,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Consider that the understatement of the century. OK, more like the last seven years, each bringing a Blackhawks playoff berth.
When the horn sounded Thursday following the hard-fought win over a tough Western Conference foe in the Canucks, it took the voice of Gene Honda’s fill-in to announce to the 21,901 fans gathered that the Blackhawks had clinched a playoff spot.
A reluctant cheer filled the building, as if that really mattered.
The Blackhawks’ bright core in 2010 — Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, etc. — brought home Lord Stanley’s chalice, and Chicago rejoiced. Then, it got hungry for a refill with the Cup.
After two years of disappointment, a lockout-shortened season in 2013 saw Chicago celebrate its hockey heroes once again, with that same group of talented stars getting it done come playoff time.
Believe it or not, newcomers to Chicago hockey, there was once a day in 2008 in which the Blackhawks didn’t make the playoffs. They actually finished in 10th place. Kane and Toews were rookies, while Keith and Brent Seabrook worked to establish themselves as NHL players.
So what’s next for the Blackhawks, with the playoff berth in hand?
“We’re more focused on playing good hockey going into the playoffs,” said Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, he of one Stanley Cup between the pipes.
Added rookie forward Teuvo Teravainen: “It’s the time of the year, we need every point we can get to get to the playoffs.”
Typical rookie. Because, Teravainen, playing the best hockey of his extraordinarily young career as of late, didn’t even know the Blackhawks had clinched a spot in the playoffs.
Actually, that sounds completely fair.
One week ago, the Blackhawks had played arguably their worst hockey of the season, losing three out of four games, with the setbacks coming by a combined 13-3 margin. Panic had set in from the outside, with those high demands from Chicago’s fans, but the team remained confident.
Perhaps the wakeup call came in Winnipeg on Sunday, when Toews, the local boy and Blackhawks’ captain, swept home the game-winner with less than a minute left in the game. Chicago has since played at a playoff level.
Expectations for the Blackhawks are to win the Stanley Cup each year. A meager playoff berth isn’t to be celebrated, even if this was a milestone before Kane and Toews took over Chicago’s deprived hockey scene.
There was no party in Thursday’s postgame locker room, as packed bags surrounded that logo centered in the room. The players were adjusting their ties to match their traveling suits, because Buffalo is up next Friday night.
For the Blackhawks, a reason to celebrate was business as usual. Their goal is to hoist the Stanley Cup — and that’s what is expected, too.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.