CHICAGO (AP)—A parking lot now sits where the “Madhouse on Madison” once rested, the venerable Chicago Stadium and it’s earsplitting confines. It’s where Mike Keenan once roamed behind the Blackhawks’ bench.
His stint as coach from 1988-92 produced 60 playoff games, 33 postseason victories and a trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 1992.
“We had a pretty good run there, 60 playoff games in four years. You couldn’t get a seat in the building and I think they’ve brought that back to life,” Keenan said this week.
A man who has seemingly toured the NHL filling vacancies, Keenan comes back to Chicago for Thursday night’s Game 1 of the opening-round playoff series as coach of the Calgary Flames.
And hockey has also returned in Chicago. Two years ago the United Center could be half-empty, but now after a complete makeover by owner Rocky Wirtz and the infusion of young players, the Blackhawks are a big draw again. And they’re back in the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
“There is standing room only,” Keenan said. “It’s fun for the players on both teams to be involved in that kind of atmosphere.”
The Blackhawks swept the Flames in four meetings during the regular season, winning by a combined 19-7 score. But the teams haven’t played since early February, perhaps making that head-to-head a little less telling.
“Not to say we don’t respect them. We respect their ability, yes,” Keenan said. “At the same time the teams have changed and the circumstances have changed.”
The Flames added center Olli Jokinen and defenseman Jordan Leopold since the teams last met. And Calgary, which flamed out down the stretch and lost a chance to win the Northwest Division title by finishing 7-11, will be healthier with the return of left wing Rene Bourqe and All-Star defenseman Dion Phaneuf from injuries.
The less experienced Blackhawks, by contrast, closed with a rush, going 6-0-1 in their final seven games of a turnaround season that featured the scoring of Martin Havlat and 20-year-old captain Jonathan Toews and the solid goaltending of veteran Nikolai Khabibulin. Khabibulin has a career 22-5-2 regular-season record against the Flames and also was in goal when Tampa Bay beat Calgary to win the Stanley Cup in 2004.
Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff won 45 games this season and had a 2.84 GAA. His matchup with Khabibulin will be a key in the series, as will Chicago’s ability to contain Flames star Jarome Iginla, who had 89 points.
“He’s one of those guys who is hard to defend in all situations every second he’s on the ice,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said Wednesday after practice.
Keeping Iginla in check could be an assignment that falls to Sammy Pahlsson, one of the Blackhawks’ late-season acquisitions, who played on a Stanley Cup winner in Anaheim and has 64 games of postseason experience.
Dealing with Chicago’s speed will be a challenge for the Flames, who will also need to turn up their power play if they hope to steal one of the first two games Chicago. Over the final 10 games, Calgary was 0-for-43 on the power play.
Game 2 will be played Saturday night in Chicago before the best-of-seven series switches to the Pengrowth Saddledome—another noisy venue—for Game 3 on Monday and Game 4 on Wednesday.
Quenneville, who took over four games into the season after Denis Savard was fired, has brought structure, experience and tougher defense to the Hawks, who won 22 road games this season to tie a franchise record.
Quenneville knows the Flames will test his young team with a physical approach.
“We’ve got to expect them to come at us that way. We have to respond in- kind,” he said.
“At the same time, we have to be smart at how we approach it. We want to stay out of the penalty box, but a the same time the physical part of the game is something we don’t mind as well. “
Quenneville said RW Patrick Sharp should be ready to play Thursday night after missing the final five games with what appears to be a knee injury. Sharp scored 26 goals this season, third most on the team behind Toews (34) and Havlat (29).