Can Hawks Regenerate for Playoffs?

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Imrem

At least the annual springtime question about the Blackhawks has changed.

No longer is it, "Didn't Chicago used to have a National Hockey League team?"

Now the question concerns whether the Hawks have anything left for the playoffs.

Yes, the NHL is still conducting the Stanley Cup playoffs. Believe it or not, against all odds, against all logic, the Hawks actually qualified for the first time since 1997.

After finishing the regular season with 96 points, about half a hundred more than most people expected, the Hawks play Game 1 of Round 1 tonight at St. Louis.

My concern would be over the stress and strain it took to compile those 96 points. Each was vital considering the Hawks didn't clinch a playoff berth until the season's last week and the Western Conference's No. 5 seed until the season's last afternoon.

Brian Sutter, in his first year as coach here, had the Hawks grinding and grinding and grinding from October's first faceoff to April's final horn.

Sutter demanded the Hawks play hard every night, every period, every shift, every minute, every second. It's his way. It had to be their way if they were going to regain some respect around the NHL.

Personally, I was exhausted by December, and I hadn't played a single game. In fact, I probably watched fewer games than a goon has teeth.

Just hearing those Sutter commercials on Fox Sports Net wore me out. They were inspiring until they became irritating. I kept turning the volume lower, and lower, and lower ... down to mute.

To the Hawks' credit, they kept listening and responding. It was the only way the organization's culture could change after missing the playoffs four straight seasons.

For six months, the Hawks proved that in the NHL a team can win a lot of games by playing harder than the opposition.

Now the bad news is the same as the good news . …