Why Blackhawks will repeat as Stanley Cup champs

Written By BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist Posted: 04/16/2014, 03:01pm
Array The Chicago Blackhawks pose with the Stanley Cup after the Blackhawks beat the Boston Bruins 3-2 in Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals Monday, June 24, 2013, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

The Blackhawks are about to go on another roll.

Can you feel it? No, not that. That’s your feet attempting to thaw. I’m talking about a team that knows how to do this, that has the rare ability to turn it on when necessary. I’m talking about a team that was able to score two goals in 17 seconds to win the Stanley Cup last season.

That team, or most of it, is still here. The playoffs start Thursday night in St. Louis, and the Hawks look hungry and healthy.

It’s time again.

Can you feel it? No? Maybe you’re dwelling on things that don’t matter, like the regular season. Those 82 games were the vehicle to get the Hawks to here, where they’re poised to do their best work.

You’ve probably heard all the questions that have been asked about the Hawks as they head into the postseason. Perhaps you’ve been asking some of those questions yourself:

† What effect will the late-season injuries to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have on the Hawks in the playoffs?

† What kind of shape are Toews and Kane in after missing time toward the end of the regular season?

† How will the Hawks deal with the Blues’ bruising brand of hockey?

† How will they respond after what was, for them, an up-and-down season?

† Are they worn out after winning the Stanley Cup in a condensed 2012-13 season, then sending 10 players to the 2014 Sochi Olympics?

Let’s assume that Toews and Kane are fine after their injuries and their extended rest (Kane missed the last 12 games of the season with a strained knee, Toews the last six with a top-secret “upper-body’’ injury). I’m making that assumption after watching both of them practice Tuesday. They looked good. They looked rested, and after ability, rest might be the most important commodity in the playoffs.

The crazy amount of talent and depth on this team trumps whatever questions are out there about the Hawks. They’re ready to go.

Oh, and they’re one of those teams that can flip a switch and play well when they want to.

They want to.

It’s why St. Louis should be very concerned heading into Game 1 of this best-of-seven series. The Blues are trying to forget the fact that they lost their last six regular-season games. That’s going to be difficult, but it’s going to be really difficult against a team as physically gifted as the Hawks.

“I think we’re in the right place,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think we’ve waited a long time to get the playoffs to begin. Attitude-wise, you get Toews and Kane back with the team and being a big part of your team right off the bat, I think that gives your team a little boost and some excitement as well.

“But we all believe that we’ve got the right team here and the right chemistry with our group. We all like the challenges ahead of us, and we want to do what we did last year.’’

I almost feel sorry for the Blues. It’s one thing to be struggling. It’s another to be struggling and then have to face the defending champions. They’ll try to be physical, but in order to hit Kane and Co., they’ll have to catch them first. Easier said than done.

The Hawks have had their share of struggles, but they weren’t huge, and none of them involved complacency, the bane of teams trying to repeat.

Goalie Corey Crawford will never be the People’s Choice, and that might be the best thing that ever happened to him. I think underneath it all he smolders at the lack of belief in him from all points. It drives him. A Stanley Cup ring on his hand hasn’t done much to quiet the doubters. Time to teach them another lesson, Corey, not that the lesson will take.

There are all sorts of reasons for the Hawks to shift into their other, better gear. But only one matters: because they can.

“With the success we had last year, we know what it takes to get the job done,’’ forward Brandon Bollig said. “With a very similar team to the one we had last year, we’re looking to do the same.’’

The last team to win back-to-back Cups was the Red Wings, in 1997 and 1998.

It’s time. Can you feel it? I think you can.

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