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Blackhawks gearing up for first playoff spot since 2002
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/4/2009 11:36 PM

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There were no public celebrations in the Blackhawks' dressing room Friday night after they clinched their first playoff spot since 2002.

But there were plenty of sighs of relief.

It's not easy to make the playoffs in the NHL. There is a mental and physical grind that starts in October, and meeting those demands takes its toll.

"It feels like we've had a great year and with six games left you're finally clinching a playoff spot," Patrick Kane said. "It really makes you realize how tough it is, how long of a season it is, and how much you have to go through to just clinch a spot."

Captain Jonathan Toews wore a look of satisfaction for helping lead the way to the postseason. Toews' goal in the 3-1 win over Nashville was his team-leading 32nd of the season.

"It's been a heck of a battle," Toews said. "It just feels like if you go on a two-game skid or a three-game skid, as hard as we worked all year, those teams were right behind us. You can't afford to have a week off.

"I'm still learning and we've got a young team, but I think we've done a good job of staying consistent this year and playing as a team. We've struck to our guns and stuck to doing the things that made us successful all year, and that's how we got to this point. It's been definitely a team effort."

It's no secret the Hawks don't have extensive playoff experience. Of the 20 players who dressed Friday, just nine have appeared in a Stanley Cup playoff game, and that was including guys with only a handful of games such as Patrick Sharp, Ben Eager and Matt Walker.

Martin Havlat's advice is to keep doing what has been working.

"Just have fun; it's still hockey," said Havlat, who has 51 career playoff games under his belt. "Most of the guys haven't played in the playoffs yet and it's one level up, for sure. To me it's the most fun part of the season, so we should enjoy it.

"We still have five games left and we need to get ready."

When those young Hawks want to know what it's going to be like playing playoff hockey, it's teammates such as Havlat, Sammy Pahlsson, Andrew Ladd and Nikolai Khabibulin who can fill them in best.

"I'm sure it will be a lot more intense," Kane said. "Everyone plays a different style of game, a little bit more intense with everyone finishing checks. We have a lot of veteran guys here who have won Cups, and obviously you can go to them for help."

The Hawks still have work to do with five games to play, starting today in Columbus. They desperately want to finish fourth in the West and open the playoffs at the United Center, where they are 23-9-7 in front of their rabid fans.

"We clinched a playoff position, but we want to finish as high as we can get and hopefully have that home-ice advantage at least for one round," Kane said. "We want to get that home spot for the fans and the organization.

"A lot of guys are going to put a lot of sacrifices on the line, and that's what it takes. Who knows how far we can get, but we're going to do our best."

• Patrick Sharp didn't make the road trip to Columbus and Nashville because of the apparent knee injury he suffered Friday.

Joel Quenneville said the injury wasn't serious and hopes Sharp can play in one of the final two or three regular-season games.