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Associated Press, Published April 29 2013

Blackhawks wary of Wild ahead of playoff series

CHICAGO – For all their accomplishments so far – the record-breaking start, the Presidents’ Trophy, the individual honors – the Chicago Blackhawks know this is the time of year that will define their season.

Jonathan Toews and Co. also know all the reasons for concern heading into their playoff series against the Minnesota Wild.

The Blackhawks are favored to make it to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in four seasons, but the Wild bring plenty of talent into Game 1 tonight. Then there is Chicago’s recent postseason history, and the checkered performance for past winners of the Presidents’ Trophy, adding to the intrigue.

“Everyone knows, if you look at how the playoffs have gone the past couple years, if you’re the first or the eighth seed, it doesn’t really matter,” Toews said after the Blackhawks practiced at the United Center on Monday. “So as soon as Game 1 starts (tonight), everything that happened before that is pretty meaningless and we know that.”

Minnesota was thought to be a Stanley Cup contender after it gave free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter identical

13-year, $98 million contracts last summer. But the Wild struggled when they finally got on the ice following the lockout, managing just 22 goals while sputtering to a 4-5-1 start.

“They got hot in the middle of the season, winning seven in a row and 17 of 24 over one stretch, then slumped a bit at the end. With a chance to clinch a postseason spot, they lost

6-1 at home to Edmonton on Friday.

They’re a scary team,” forward Patrick Kane said. “You look at the talent they have, guys like Parise, Suter, Mikko Koivu, you could go on and on naming players. They got a great goaltender in (Niklas) Backstrom, who’s proven that he can steal games. I think we just got to worry about ourselves first and foremost, but when you’re facing a team like this, you know that they can win any game they play in.”

Minnesota finally secured its first playoff appearance in five years when Backstrom stopped 29 shots in a 3-1 win at Colorado on Saturday night.

“I think we expected ourselves to be in the playoffs, and I don’t think you’re going to find a lot of guys who are relaxing now and exhaling and just being satisfied that we’re here,” Parise said. “We want to win. We’re not just happy that we made it. We want to keep playing, and we think that we’re capable of it.”

The Wild could get a boost in Game 1 from the return of Jason Pominville, who missed the last two games after taking an elbow to the chin against the Los Angeles Kings. The right wing practiced on Monday, but coach Mike Yeo was tight-lipped about his status for the opener at Chicago.

Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery and center Dave Bolland have been ruled out with lower-body injuries, but they could return for Game 2 on Friday night. Emery teamed with Corey Crawford to form the league’s best goalie tandem this season, making his absence of particular note heading into the matchup with Koivu and Minnesota.