The Chicago Blackhawks look to outplay the Minnesota Wild as they did in regular season play.
For the Chicago Blackhawks, it's that time of year again. Where every game matters. Where it doesn't matter how well you played in the regular season.
Winning the Presidents' Trophy doesn't guarantee a Stanley Cup for the Blackhawks—or an easy first-round series for that matter. Let's not forget that the No. 8-seeded Los Angeles Kings won the Cup last year.
Facing the Minnesota Wild in the first round will be a challenge, especially when the Blackhawks go to play in the state of hockey.
Sure, the Wild lost two of the three meetings against the Hawks, but they were only outscored 8-6 in the series. The Hawks shouldn't underestimate the power of Minnesota.
Here are the five most important players for the Blackhawks against the Wild.
Patrick Sharp must stay healthy and step up his play in the playoffs.
The 2013 regular season was surprisingly uneventful for Patrick Sharp. Only scoring six goals in 28 games played, Sharp's play and time out with injury hid him under the radar.
Now that he's healthy again, it's time for the Ontario native to make his mark felt and help Dave Bolland and Patrick Kane out on the second line.
Hopefully, Sharp channels some of his 2010 playoff self (11 goals and 11 assists in 20 games) during this series.
Minnesota boy Nick Leddy has improved immensely this past season
It's hard to deny that Nick Leddy has become a defensive force for the Blackhawks this season. With a plus-15 rating and 18 points, he's on track to become an elite defenseman in the NHL.
Expectations are high for Leddy in the playoffs now that the Eden Prairie native has the chance to play against his hometown team.
Maybe he can get some revenge in this series against the Wild, the team that originally drafted and traded the 22-year-old to the Blackhawks.
Brandon Saad wants his playoff performance to put him in the race for the Calder Trophy.
Brandon Saad's rookie year in the NHL has made him one of the favorites for the Calder Trophy. Playing alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa certainly brought out the best of the "man-child" during the regular season.
If the Blackhawks want to quickly eliminate the Wild from the playoffs, they'll need a strong performance from the 20-year-old who scored the fourth-most goals on the team.
Jonathan Toews could certify his bid for the Hart and Selke trophies with his play in the postseason.
The leadership of Captain Serious guided the Blackhawks to their second Presidents' Trophy in team history this season.
Toews controls the composure of this Chicago team.
He needs to continue to keep the Blackhawks focused while playing against a Minnesota team that hasn't made the playoffs since the 2007 season.
And I doubt this will be a problem for the captain as long as he keeps playing the way he did in the regular season.
The Blackhawks hope Corey Crawford will continue to show his dominance in net during the playoffs.
Hands down, Corey Crawford is the most important player in this series. It's hard to forget the less-than-favorable way Crawford played against the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2012 playoffs.
With a 0.893 save percentage and a 2.58 goals-against average during the Coyotes series, he definitely hurt the Hawks chances at advancing past the first round.
Let's hope the goalie with the third-best goals-against average in the NHL doesn't falter this series. Maybe then we can all forget about last year's lackluster performance.