Woe unto fans of the Chicago Blackhawks, an NHL franchise that has won two Stanley Cups during the last four seasons. The team of Chicago’s suburbs has an expectation to be the best night in and night out. Anything less than is unacceptable. “The Franchise”, as Sports Illustrated declared, has apparently created a birthright to victory, and anything but 82-0 has become unacceptable.
When was the last team to win a Stanley Cup in consecutive seasons? If the answered can be named off the cuff, then congratulations, for you are likely old enough to remember when the 1996-1998 Detroit Red Wings captured repeat Stanley Cups. Either that, or you are a student of the game. More importantly, when was the last Stanley Cup Champion crowned 63 games into an 82-game season? As the cliche goes, the race isn’t won on the first lap.
The Blackhawks’ offense ranks first in goals per game and second in shots per game. They are fourth in shots allowed per game and rank within the top 15 in goals allowed per game. Corey Crawford has proven himself to be an excellent situational goaltender, but nonetheless there is a panic amongst people who tend to not remember the Blackhawks were coached by Denis Savard and never had a full-time captain six years ago.
Is that to say everything is perfect? Certainly not, as Marian Hossa’s injury came during an unfortunate time, and the team will be taking the proper, albeit conservative approach during this season’s trade deadline.
As is, thanks to regular season struggles against the Central Division, the Blackhawks have a date with the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. That being said, anything can happen, and the standings remain close. Only one No. 5 seed has won the Stanley Cup, and no Western Conference team at No. 5 has won it all.
Isn’t that rather dismal sounding? Remember, however, that the Los Angeles Kings became the first team to win a Stanley Cup just two years ago as anything lower than a No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. The tempo of the NHL game has altered dramatically over the past few years, with the Blackhawks offense’ being ahead of the curve.
The NHL has evolved. Aside from the NFL, it is the least predictable of all pro sports. With that, and a salary cap to boot, repeat champions should never be expected. Regardless, the Blackhawks will move forward, fully aware that the team which plays best during the playoffs is in fact the one that ends up hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486