The Chicago Blackhawks team that hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2010 possessed all the right pieces to be champions. Each player, from the first line to the fourth line, contributed in the historic run, and everything came together for Joel Quenneville’s squad as smoothly as Patrick Kane’s overtime winner in the Stanley Cup Final.
But then came the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover year, and the Hawks lived up to the low expectations, bowing out in the first round of the playoffs against the Canucks — even after storming back from a 3-0 deficit. The next season saw the Hawks making the postseason again, but the results were just as disappointing, as they lost in the first round to the Phoenix Coyotes.
The core may have remained intact after the 2010 season, but the identity of the team was not as strong or intimidating. The Blackhawks’ roster went through some serious upheaval because of salary cap restraints, which led to Chicago parting ways with some of its most pivotal players during the Cup run — most notably Antti Niemi, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien. The next two seasons were filled with the Hawks trying to recapture the magic they had in 2010, but they never quite clicked or showed true chemistry.
Now, after two other Stanley Cup champions have been crowned, the Hawks are ready to reclaim their throne.
Currently tied with the NHL record of 16 consecutive games with a point to start a season, the Hawks’ hot start (13-0-3) shows this team has no intention of another early postseason departure. Trading away some of the team’s strongest pieces seemed like a setback at the time, but with young guys like Andrew Shaw, Brandon Bollig and Brandon Saad developing in the AHL and eventually being called up, Chicago has shown it is more than capable of replacing the older, more expensive players.
Shaw’s intensity and energy never wavers on the ice, as he has proven himself a nuisance in front of the net. Pair that with Bollig’s willingness to drop the gloves, and Hawks fans miss Byfuglien a little less. Corey Crawford has posted a .935 save percentage this season, and backup goaltender Ray Emery has been just as impressive, keeping the undefeated streak alive. He took over for the injured Crawford between the pipes the last three games.
The Blackhawks’ top defensive pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook continues to make life easier for whoever is in goal, but beyond them, Niklas Hjalmarsson — who is logging 21:05 of ice time per game — and Nick Leddy provide even more depth defensively and some much-needed rest for the top two in this shortened season.
The Blackhawks are equally as dominant with the puck as well, and much of that is thanks to the core of the 2010 Stanley Cup-winning team. Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Kane lead the Hawks in points per game, with Kaner adding 22 in 16 games — good enough for third overall in the NHL. Nine guys remain from the 2010 team, with seven of them the team’s top scorers. The core remains, and Chicago also has the role players — and, in turn, the depth — to make a legitimate postseason run.
The maturity, as well as the production, that the younger players have shown this season, combined with the established play of the Hawks’ stars, make for a tough team. More importantly, though, the Blackhawks have a complete team.
They have recovered from their hangover, and they are ready to make history on Friday night, when they will attempt to go 17 games without a regulation loss as their quest for the Stanley Cup continues.
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