Hockey / Sports

No place like home for Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- A few minutes after 2 p.m. Sunday, the lights will come up at the United Center following another rousing rendition of the national anthem and the puck will drop on a pretty important hockey game in front of a capacity crowd.

Meanwhile, at the Pepsi Center in Denver, the next scheduled event is a Cher concert May 28.

If not for a bounce here or there, the Blackhawks would be in Colorado to play Game 2 of the second round of the playoffs against the Avalanche, who claimed the top spot in the Central Division to secure home-ice advantage. Instead, the upstart Wild spoiled the Avs' party in a seven-game first-round NHL playoff series and the Hawks find themselves enjoying the comforts of home.

If only the Avs could turn back time.

Playing postseason games at the United Center hasn't been a large advantage for the Hawks the last few seasons; it has been monumental. The defending Stanley Cup champions have won 15 of their last 17 home games in the playoffs dating to 2013, including five in a row. During the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, they are unbeaten in four home games.

What exactly makes playing at the arena such friendly confines?

"The No. 1 thing is the crowd," captain Jonathan Toews said. "You saw it in the St. Louis series, especially, how they really get us going. It's always an advantage, especially in the playoffs."

Added defenseman Johnny Oduya: "Starting at home instead of going to Colorado, it's always nice to have that on your side. You get energized from the arena (and) the whole feeling. That's something that we try to take advantage of."

The Hawks will try to do that in Game 2 against the Wild when they hope to ride the energy from the 272nd consecutive capacity crowd overall, including 43 in postseason contests.

"When something positive happens for your team -- a big save, a hit -- the crowd is on your side (and) getting you more amped up as opposed to the other way when their goalie makes a big save at home or they score a goal at home or get a big hit," defenseman Brent Seabrook said.

That the Hawks hold home-ice advantage against the Wild is a pleasant surprise after the defending Stanley Cup champions failed to catch the Avs and Blues in the Central Division despite piling up 107 points in the regular season.

"When you have a regular season with a 100-something points, it was tough knowing you're starting on the road and generally you'd have home ice to start the playoffs," coach Joel Quenneville said.

"It worked out that, hey, we got a break and we do have home ice now and taking advantage of the building and the enthusiasm of the city and the environment it helps us. It got us off to a good start the last two games at home -- it's a great place to play."

In addition to the home-ice boost, it doesn't hurt that the Hawks appear to be peaking at the right time. After a sometimes up-and-down regular season, they are resembling more and more the team that steamrolled to the Cup in '13.

"You can only say that if we make it back to where we were in the postseason last year (and) if we get the same result," Toews said. "But the bottom line is we want to play our best hockey right now.

"There were some moments early in the season where we picked up where we left off and we played great hockey. As the game sped up, it's tough to keep that pace high, stay on top of your game especially when teams are prepared and they're ready to play you every single time.

"I think we realized making the playoffs (was) our No. 1 goal, getting home-ice the next one and after that we know we're the type of team that can compete with anybody in the postseason. That's what really matters to the guys in the locker room."

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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BLACKHAWKS


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