EDMONTON – It’s been three years since they last took the ice for a game in the 16-team tournament that determines a certain year’s NHL championship. The prospect brings excitement, even if the Blackhawks are an underdog in 2020.
But it’s fair to say these Stanley Cup Playoffs can’t be compared to what they went through over the past decade or even in the franchise’s proud past. No home games at the United Center for the eighth-seeded Blackhawks or at T-Mobile Arena for the top-seeded Golden Knights, with every game being played in the Edmonton “bubble” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That includes Game 1 of the team’s first round series on Tuesday night, one of seven possible contests they may have the next few weeks.
Passionate fans on both sides have now been replaced by tarps and big screens in the stands at Rogers Place, a sign of just how different things have been and will be for however long the Blackhawks stay.
Ryan Carpenter, a former player for Vegas who is taking the ice for the Blackhawks Tuesday night, knows it won’t be like other playoff series.
“Yeah, it’s different for guys who have played in the playoffs before,” said Carpenter on Tuesday. “It’s so loud. I can’t imagine what it would be like at the ‘UC’ if we had a home game, just how loud it would be and any of these buildings would be rocking right now.
“So there’s an energy and a momentum I think that happens when your the home team.”
Does that disappear now that the game is held without fans? Carpenter pointed to the way the Blackhawks were able to rally after Edmonton scored the first goals in Game 1 and 3 for victories.
Other than that, the pressure and understanding of what is on the line doesn’t change.
“When the Oilers scored first, there really wasn’t a ton of momentum and we were quick to respond,” said Carpenter. “Maybe that’s a bit different if you were a home team and scored first. Maybe you’d have the crowd and energy behind you.
“But it definitely feels playoff intensity. I think too, when you’re in the bubble, it’s kind of a different setting. You’re just with your teammates. I think that’s what playoffs is really all about, it’s just focusing on you and your team and going to war with each other.”
Yet Jeremy Colliton isn’t separating this series from the preliminary round one with Edmonton last week. For him, the Blackhawks have already been in Stanley Cup Playoffs mode for five games.
“You’re getting ready to go head-to-head with a team night after night. I think we gained a little confidence from getting through that and winning,” said Colliton. “We, of course, know it’s a big challenge. We’re playing the top seed in the conference and we’re No. 12.
“So we’ll have to earn everything we get.”
Just like a Stanley Cup Playoffs not played inside a bubble.