Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Hawks not daunted by size-large Flames

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CHICAGO

— If these babyfaced Hawks are indeed fretting in anticipati­on of what lies ahead, they were doing a nifty job of hiding it Wednesday.

“Sometimes,’’ forward Andrew Ladd was patiently explaining on the eve of the Chicago Blackhawks­Calgary Flames Stanley Cup playoff series-opener, “being young and kind of naive actually just allows you to relax and play. The game, the series, just kind of carries you along.

“We’re just a bunch of young guys having fun. Yes, you’ve got to live it, we don’t have a lot of playoff experience — and, sure, it’s nice to have something to fall back on in tough times — but maybe this way allows us to be looser, because you really don’t know any better. It’s not so much about what might happen if you don’t win, it’s about what’s out there if you want it bad enough.’’

Ladd is one of the few Hawks with extensive playoff experience, having won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.

“When I won the Cup in Carolina, I honestly didn’t understand the full extent of what had happened,’’ Ladd said. “I was just so happy. My head was just all over the place. It’s only after you sit down and think about it, after you go a couple years after that not even making the playoffs, then the importance starts to sink in.

“I don’t sense any tension or anxiety or fear in here. I just sense this feeling of . . . opportunit­y.’’

Nor do the Blackhawks seem unduly concerned with the prospect of the larger, more seasoned Flames stapling them into the woodwork, bullying them about, grinding them down into mulch over the course of two hellacious weeks of rock-’em sock-’em robot hockey.

Outside of the massive framework of 6-foot-3, 246-pound right-winger Dustin Byfuglien, Chicago ain’t the most physically daunting group. When sizing up this series, many of the prognostic­ators out there are pinpointin­g size — super-soph Patrick Kane is particular­ly wee — as being a potentiall­y determinin­g factor.

The Hawks themselves seem nonplussed.

“If you get knocked down,’’ shrugs rookie sniper Kris Versteeg, “you get up and play harder.

“We’ve had teams all year long playing physical against us. This will be nothing new. You’re going to get hit. These are the playoffs. You just can’t allow it to frustrate you.’’

In short, the Hawks plan on playing hockey ‘the Chicago way,’ to steal a line from Sean Connery. Fast, fun, furious. And if their power play has been feeling a bit off of late, well, with Kane, captain Jonathan Toews, Martin Havlat and Brian Campbell to hop over the boards, it should be up and running in no time flat.

“I don’t think you can intimidate guys at this level,” scoffs Ladd. “We’ve got a lot of competitiv­e people in this room, too. Guys like (Patrick Sharp) and Toews, if you push, they’ll push back. If they want to do some stupid things out there, we’re only too happy to send out our power play.

“What we’re expecting is a tough, hard, physical series. And we’re OK with that.’’

Yes, the Windy City is ready to rock. From now until the Hawks are done, this is a hockey town again. And that is a wonderful thing.

“The fans here have been waiting for this night since 2002,’’ says Versteeg. “I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like during the anthem.

“Our crowd has been great all season but (Thursday night) is going to be insane. Crazy. Nuts. They’ll blow the lid off the place.”

Mightn’t there be a danger, though, of the young and impression­able Hawks’ being too keyed up?

“There’s been no indication of that. They should be excited,” dismisses coach Joel Quennevill­e, smiling, “If it’s channelled properly, it can be a great advantage.

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