The Blackhawks were the best team in the lockout-shortened, 48-game season. They started with an NHL-record, 24-game points streak and closed with a league-high 77 points _ five more than Pittsburgh _ by rolling four lines, three pairs of defensemen and two goaltenders who were tough to beat.
“We knew we had to get off to a hot start with the short season,” Kane said. “It went by pretty fast, that’s for sure. It seems like it’s January or February still, and we’ve got a couple of months left in the regular season before we head out to play in the playoffs. It’s going to be a quick turnaround.”
The top-seeded Blackhawks open the playoffs Tuesday night against eighth-seeded Minnesota, which hopes its $98-million free agents _ Zach Parise and Ryan Suter _ can provide a quick return the franchise’s investment.
For the first time since 1996, each of the NHL’s Original Six teams _ Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Detroit, Chicago and the Rangers _ are in the playoffs.
Toronto earned a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and fifth-seeded Maple Leafs will match up with fourth-seeded the Bruins. The second-seeded Canadiens will face seventh-seeded Ottawa in the East.
In the West, Detroit extended its franchise record postseason streak to 22, the fifth-longest in league history. The Red Wings finished well enough to avoid a first-round matchup with the Blackhawks to perhaps move into a winnable series against second-seeded Anaheim, who they beat in their last two meetings by a combined score of 7-2.
Vancouver, the only team to repeat as a division champion, is the West’s third-seeded team and is matched up with sixth-seeded San Jose.
While the Kings showed if you get in, you can win, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said it takes more than good fortune to survive perhaps the most grueling postseason in professional sports.
“You don’t win in the end without talent, don’t kid yourself,” Babcock said. “They had a great team.”
AP Sports Writers Will Graves in Pittsburgh, Howard Fendrich in Washington and freelance writer Timothy Cronin in Chicago contributed to this report.
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