I know I criticize the Chicago Blackhawks a lot for their struggles, but you have to give credit where credit is due. The Blackhawks, when faced with a 2-0 deficit, did not back down. Instead, they fought hard and beat the St. Louis Blues in four straight games. Aside from giving the Blues a case of Deja Blue (forgive the pun, but I had to get it out of the way), the Hawks have shown they’re still the same team as last year.
Yes, they still have the same explosive offense that helped them win the Stanley Cup last year. After slow starts, Patrick Kane Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp were difference makers. Kane’s puck-handling ability was the difference in Game 4 while Toews’s intelligence — and a little luck — was enough in Game 5. And Sharp wasn’t about to let his slump get to him in Game 6, not even getting knocked in the teeth!
But it’s also the defense that got them through. They wouldn’t be moving on if Corey Crawford hadn’t completely outplayed Ryan Miller or if Michal Handzus (despite my criticism) didn’t play so well on the penalty kill. Heck, Sheldon Brookbank deserves credit for coming in when Brent Seabrook was (justifiably) suspended for three games.
But what’s most important was that they adapted. Eventually, they knew they had to deal with the Blues’ physicality. So what did they do? They played their usual game, which the Blues could not match. Part of that is that they know how to win. They were down 3-1 in their Western Conference semifinal last year and the memory of that comeback spurred them to come back against the Blues.
Make no mistake. The Hawks are flawed, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a dangerous team. Whoever they play in the coming rounds, whether they’re the Colorado Avalanche or Minnesota Wild, should recognize that as defending champions, the Blackhawks are not going to be easy to beat.