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HARTMAN, YOUNG BLACKHAWKS WILL BE IN SPOTLIGHT FOR PLAYOFFS

April 13, 2017

The first time Blackhawks winger Ryan Hartman let his beard grow out, it was the 2015 AHL playoffs when Hartman was playing for Rockford. It didn't go well.

"I let it get a little out of hand," Hartman said. "It got pretty large."

Hartman is hoping what he learned in beard maintenance two seasons ago will help guide him through the Stanley Cup playoffs should the Hawks make a deep run this year.

But Hartman, like some of his teammates who will take the ice Thursday for Game 1 against the Predators, does not have any previous experience to draw from on the ice in the NHL playoffs.

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Hartman, fellow wingers John Hayden and Nick Schmaltz and center Tanner Kero will likely be in the lineup for their first playoff game.

Hartman said the best advice he has received from the coaching staff is to focus on a Predators player he might be matched up against and try to defeat that player.

"You're going to have one-on-one battles throughout the series," Hartman said. "Just win all your battles. Just find your man and be better than one of their players. Compete and win every one-on-one battle, and if everyone is doing that, we're going to have a lot more puck time and it'll be a lot easier of a series if we're battling hard and competing."

Over the course of the season, general manager Stan Bowman professed faith in the Hawks' young players, even when others were skeptical. So far, Bowman was right to be so confident, especially with Schmaltz and Hartman, two key figures in the Hawks earning the top spot in the Western Conference.

But the playoffs are a tougher grind than the 82-game regular season. There, an off night isn't a huge deal. Now it is.

"That consistency is something you try to instill over the course of the season and you apply it now," coach Joel Quenneville said.

As for getting the younger players ready for the playoffs, the coaching staff and veterans in the room don't want to inundate the newbies with too much information and advice.

"Last year (with the Panthers), we had a lot of guys and it was there first time there," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "We talked so much about it that it was just overkill. Just go play. These guys can play in this league. They're great players and just let them go play some hockey. They'll find their way fine."

It might help that they are skating on lines with proven veterans. Hartman will be with Marcus Kruger and Marian Hossa, Schmaltz with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik while Kero and Hayden will be with Jordin Tootoo.

"The biggest thing is there's going to be a lot of ebbs and flows in the playoffs," Tootoo said. "Momentum changes, constant emotions. You just have to be able to keep it in check. When you have veteran leaders and guys who have been through it all, you understand that and we're all here to help each other out ... If something bad happens, you have to forget about it and move on."

Quenneville said his staff tried to "lighten up the day" for the younger players as best it can to ease any self-induced pressure.

"We don't want to change their approach or their habits," Quenneville said.

Except when it comes to their beards.

COURTESY: Chris Hine - Chicago Tribune