CHICAGO—The Chicago Blackhawks will win the Stanley Cup again this year, making it three years in the last five the chalice will traverse down the miracle mile of Michigan Avenue on the parade route.
(Well, provided the Hawks don’t succumb to the same Cup hangover that has stopped every other champion since 1998, provided they stay healthy, provided their top guys don’t all get worn out from the Olympics and provided they get all the right breaks.)
But really, there is nothing not to like about Blackhawks’ chances for a third Cup in five years, which would kinda sorta be good enough to declare them a dynasty in this day and age.
Forget about Chicago’s 3-2 overtime loss to the scrappy, short-handed Colorado Avalanche Tuesday night; it took goalie Semyon Varlamov (46 saves) to stand on his head right out onto Madison Street for the Avs to pull out the two points.
(Well, maybe don’t forget all about it. There was arguably just the vague whiff of complacency to the Hawks’ game at times, just that little tiny air of comfort that afflicts a title team. Like that old definition of pornography, you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it.)
What this column is trying to say is this: If the Blackhawks don’t win it all again, they probably will have to beat themselves.
This isn’t your 2010-11 Hawks team, the one that was a defending champion but had much of their depth destroyed by concessions to the salary cap.
“Management’s kept this team intact the past few years. Not too many crazy changes that have affected the chemistry or anything like that,” Blackhawks star Patrick Kane told Bleacher Report. “Especially from our team last year. In 2010, we lost too many guys, but we’ve kept the same lineup pretty much from last year.”
Well, pretty much. The losses of Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik have been mourned by the hardcore Hawks fans. But that has only created more opportunity for guys like Brandon Saad (15 goals) and Andrew Shaw (13).
Hockey coaches just love the saying “Our best players have to be our best players,” and so Joel Quenneville has been happy so far. Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford have been his team’s best players.
Well, Quenneville usually has something to worry about. He’s a coach, after all, and he has nitpicked at times about that intangible of hunger. But on Tuesday, before the game with Colorado, Quenneville exuded a kind of confidence about his team that was unmistakable. He knows his team is loaded and that his top players want more rings.
“The good thing about this locker room is, nobody’s really flattered about what’s happened in the past, how many Cups we’ve won or how many games we’ve won,” Kane said. “It’s a group that’s never really satisfied, that always wants to accomplish more. I’m happy to be a part of it. It’s been a fun ride for a long time.”
Most expect Chicago GM Stan Bowman to make a deal by the March 5 deadline, possibly for a center, someone to replace the grit of Bolland, who left for Toronto. But if not, the veterans on hand who know what it takes to win seem more than confident.
“A lot of guys in here, we’ve been through so much together the last four years,” said Hossa, who at 35 hasn’t slowed down much, with 17 goals, 39 points and a plus-23.
“But I think we’re still having fun. We enjoy playing together as a team. I think that makes us tougher to play against, because we have fun playing too.”
In meeting with the media Tuesday, Kane mentioned Anaheim as the “best team” in the league so far, but if you were there and heard the tone in his voice you’d have immediately recognized it as a back-handed compliment. Kane’s monotone suggested it was something he had to say but didn’t really believe.
In the next breath, Kane talked about how the Hawks were eager to play the Ducks, to “measure ourselves” against them.
The Ducks have 75 points to the Hawks’ 71. That and four bucks will get you a grande latte at Starbucks. The Hawks have two Stanley Cups and a whole lot of swagger. Take Chicago for the win in the end.
(Well, unless something goes wrong.)