The Chicago Blackhawks came into the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the best record in the NHL. They had started the season with an 11-game winning streak, and a record-setting 24-game point streak. They lost an insanely meager seven games during regulation all season long.
They were incredibly good, which makes it no surprise that they were considered an overwhelming favorite to represent the NHL’s Western Conference in the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals.
At first, everything seemed to be going as planned, but now their Finals chances are seriously in doubt and their odds of winning the cup may as well be non-existent.
The Blackhawks’ playoff experience started out as well as they could hope for. They were absolutely dominant in the first round, easily crushing the Minnesota Wild in just five games. The Blackhawks scored 17 goals in that short series, while the Wild lit the lamp just seven times.
A 10-goal advantage usually means short-lived playoffs, and the Wild were sent packing while the Blackhawks moved on to their next opponent, the seventh-seed Detroit Red Wings.
The Red Wings barely squeaked into the race for the Cup. Of all teams in the Western Conference, the Wings were given the longest odds of winning it all, with even worse odds than the Wild.
Detroit apparently did not hear that they were supposed to be the weakest team in the West, though, and instead won their first-round series against the two-seed Anaheim Ducks. It took the Wings seven games to get past the Ducks, and they certainly would pose no challenge to the Blackhawks in round two, right?
Detroit only had two days rest between Game 7 against Anaheim and Game 1 against Chicago, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when Chicago came out and thoroughly whooped Detroit 4-1. This was exactly what everyone expected, and it looked like this would be another short series for the streaking Blackhawks.
Then something shocking happened; Detroit beat the Blackhawks 4-1 in front of a shocked Chicago crowd. The Red Wings came back to Detroit fired up from stealing one away from home, and they looked extremely confident as they beat the Blackhawks in Game 3, and again in Game 4.
This was the first time all season the Blackhawks had lost three games in a row. The Blackhawks weren’t supposed to have a hard time with Detroit, but they were nearly knocked out by this seventh-seeded team, leaving NHL fans stunned.
Chicago fans watched their captain lose his composure in game four. Jonathan Toews had a meltdown at the beginning of the second period, receiving three penalties in the first 11 minutes, resulting in a Red Wings goal. Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg caused Toews fits, shutting him down and getting under his skin.
The behavior was extremely uncharacteristic for Toews, who has won the cup once before. Yet, here he was, allowing the Wings to pull him completely out of the game, turning one of the ‘Hawks’ strengths into a surprising weakness.
Toews’ behavior, along with the lack of productivity out of the rest of the team’s all-stars, led the Blackhawks to a 3-1 deficit, forcing them to fight and claw their way back into the series, eventually winning it in seven games.
The Blackhawks had an amazing regular season, but their second-round struggles have shown a weakness that could cost them any chance to represent the West.
The Los Angeles Kings are coming into the Western Conference Finals wired to win, having taken care of business in a Game 7 of their own. Jonathan Quick has been phenomenal in goal with a save percentage of .951 and two shutouts in the second-round series against the San Jose Sharks.
The Blackhawks have suffered a blow during the Detroit series leaving them wounded, both mentally and physically. There won’t be a nice little rest between series this time, and it won’t be the seventh-seeded team waiting for them.
The Kings are coming, and they are confident and eager to get to a battered Blackhawks team that is far from the dominant machine that won the regular season.
Jeff Everette covers the NFL, specifically the Miami Dolphins, for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @jeverettesports, “like” his page on Facebook, “Trust” him on Sulia, or join his circles on Google+.