May 18, 2013 at 4:22 pm

John Niyo

Blackhawks taking aim at greatness

Red Wings forward Johan Franzen can only watch as the Blackhawks' (from left) Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, and Michal Rozsival celebrate Oduya's third-period goal in Game 1 on Wednesday in Chicago. (David Guralnick/Detroit News)

Chicago — Recent history suggests they can't. The salary cap is designed so they won't.

But that won't stop the Blackhawks from trying to become the kind of team that dominates the NHL in a way the Red Wings and Devils did for long stretches of the last two decades. The kind of team that other teams fear, even if they won't readily admit it.

"We'd love to be that team," forward Patrick Kane said Friday as the Blackhawks prepared for today's Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Red Wings at United Center.

Kane recalls a different feeling four years ago when these teams last met in the playoffs. The Red Wings were the defending Stanley Cup champs, while the Blackhawks were in the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

"At that time, I think we were pretty happy with where we went," said Kane, who was only 20 years old and in his second season. "And it almost seemed like the Red Wings were — I don't want to say this — too good of a team to get through and beat. Especially when they beat us up a few games. And that kind of made it a five-game series like you saw.

"It was pretty intimidating. Especially myself, I was matched up against (Nick) Lidstrom. Watching a guy a like that, my whole life growing up, it's pretty scary going against a guy like that for a seven-game series. But it was a great experience."

Roster is young and talented

And they learned from it, which showed in their Stanley Cup run the following spring.

But now the Blackhawks are trying to show they're something more than that, with a roster that's both young — only two regulars in the lineup are over 31 — and talented.

Obviously, the Blackhawks aren't alone. The Kings are eyeing back-to-back titles. The Bruins are in the hunt to win a second Cup in three years. The Penguins went to consecutive finals in 2008-09 and have remained an elite team since, despite Sidney Crosby's health problems.

But in the last decade — including the 2005-06 season lost to the lockout — there have been nine champions and 14 teams playing in the Finals. Only Detroit, Pittsburgh, Anaheim and New Jersey have made two trips to the Finals during that span.

Impressive numbers

Now, perhaps, it's the Blackhawks' turn to join that group after rolling to the Presidents' Trophy. They started the season with a 24-game unbeaten streak, and have won five of six playoff games while posting an impressive plus-13 goal differential.

"We'd love to be a team where, if teams are facing us on any given night — in the playoffs, the regular season, whatever — they know it's gonna be a tough matchup for them," Kane said. "I think we kind of proved that throughout the regular season, and we're trying to do that now in the playoffs, too, after maybe a couple lulls in the playoffs the past two years."

They went through a decade-long drought to get here, though, making just one playoff appearance from 1997-2008, a time when their division rivals in Detroit were winning four Stanley Cups.

"You know, if you do a good job when you're a bad team and you draft real well, you can ride that for probably 8 to 10 years," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "It's just you've got to be careful to be bad enough, long enough, so you get good enough.

"You may laugh at that and your fans don't want to hear that, but if you get good too fast you're never gonna be good enough. You stay bad enough, long enough, in the new world you have a chance to be real good. And that's what they did."

All the right moves

Chicago drafted current captain Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006, and Kane with the No. 1 pick in '07, adding to a core group that included Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp, among others. Marian Hossa was the team's big free-agent signing in 2009, adding another vital championship piece.

And then, after the Blackhawks won it all that season, general manager Stan Bowman had to oversee the cap-necessitated makeover. He finished locking up his top players to long-term extensions, then got busy in the trade market retooling the rest of the roster.

"It's not quite the same now," Babcock said of the post-championship rebuilding phase. "You saw L.A. was able to keep their team together. But on the recycle, (Chicago) did a real good job of trading and acquiring more assets and allowing themselves to be in a good position again."

The Blackhawks are in position, yes. But are they intimidating yet?

"It's different being on this side," Kane said. "You'd have to maybe ask some other players on different teams."

"That's definitely something you aspire to be."

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

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