Jonathan Toews, the 20-year-old captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, got his first taste of the playoffs and like so many of his young teammates, he found out just how different it is from the regular season. And how difficult.
"You learn that anything is possible and you can come back from big deficits. Also, if you take a shift off, it can go the other way, too," Toews said after the Blackhawks finished off the Calgary Flames in six games with a 4-1 win at Calgary on Monday night.
It's the first time since 1996 the Blackhawks have won a postseason series. Next up in the Western Conference semifinals are the Vancouver Canucks, who have not played since completing a sweep of St. Louis last Tuesday.
The Canucks split the four-game regular-season series with Chicago, winning the final two. Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo posted a shutout against Chicago in late March at the United Center.
In their series-clinching win at the Pengrowth Saddledome, the Blackhawks used their speed and skill to finally subdue the more experienced Flames. And they got a remarkable 43-save performance in Game 6 from one of their tested veterans, goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
"We beat a heck of a Calgary team. That's a team that has tons of playoff experience," right wing Adam Burish added. "A lot of those guys have been in the Cup final. Hopefully it answers some people to say 'you're not too young to win a playoff series."'
Not anymore. After a short breather before starting the series at Vancouver, the Blackhawks won't have time to look back and consider what they've accomplished so far against the physical but injury-riddled Flames.
"After the first series, guys are tired. I'm tired. It takes a toll on your body, but that's what makes it so rewarding and so much fun," Burish said.
"Now it starts all over again. It's going to be so much fun. Every game is so demanding on your body and every day after a game, you just want to sit back and relax because it's mentally and physically so tiring, but that's what's so rewarding about it."
When it opened the playoffs, Chicago had only 10 players with postseason experience.
"I think anytime you have so many guys that go it for their first time, it takes a lot out of you," said defenseman Brent Seabrook, who played a solid first-ever series against Calgary with a goal and five assists while keeping the Flames in check.
"We learned a lot of stuff throughout the games and I think we've got to take that into the next series."