The Blackhawks will win the Stanley Cup for the second season in a row.
I know you’ve been reading and hearing about how difficult it is to repeat in the NHL. There’s a reason for that: It is difficult. The postseason is a grind, injuries happen and the puck acts drunk sometimes.
But, come on. It’s playoff time, and you’ve seen the way this franchise rises to the occasion, raises its game, flips a switch and does whatever cliché means “starts trying its hardest.’’ Given the Hawks’ three Stanley Cups in the past six seasons, including last season, why would anyone doubt them?
Or, to turn the question on its head, why would anyone take the struggles of the just-completed regular season and find any meaning in them?
This is being written well before Game 1 of the Hawks’ first-round series against the Blues on Wednesday. I know that anything from a 5-0 loss to a 5-0 victory is possible. In fact, the likelihood is that the Hawks will lose one of the first two games (if not both) and that some fans will panic — because the Hawks always struggle early in the playoffs and because some fans always panic.
Here are five reasons why the Hawks will repeat as champions. Think of the list as your anti-anxiety medication. Read it and breathe:
— Duncan Keith will be rested. The Hawks’ best defenseman was suspended for six games, including Game 1 against the Blues, for slashing the Wild’s Charlie Coyle in the face. Giving him a six-game suspension is like “punishing” a frazzled stay-at-home mom with a solo vacation on a beach. Keith is on the ice more than any other Hawk, as he has been for years. In 23 playoff games last season, he averaged an insane 31 minutes, six seconds. A six-game break means that his energy level, already higher than that of a bear cub, will be off the charts.
— Patrick Kane is coming off his best season, by far. His league-leading 106 points were 17 points ahead of his nearest competitor. Oh, and he kind of likes the playoffs, the way a Kardashian kind of likes the cameras. There will be times during the postseason when everyone will be wondering what has happened to Kane and whether to send out a search party. That seems to be the case every postseason. Then he ends up scoring the biggest goal in the biggest game, and you feel a little foolish for having asked of his whereabouts. There’s no reason to believe the next two months will be any different.
— Corey Crawford is purportedly healthy. The Hawks goalie has returned from a vague injury (they’re all vague injuries in the NHL), and the only thing his team needs from him is greatness. This season, he had the most victories (35) and the most shutouts (seven) of his career. The shutouts led the league. After being benched during the Hawks’ first-round series against Nashville last season, he rebounded in a big way. In the Cup-clinching Game 6 against Tampa Bay, he had a 25-save shutout. In the final three games of that series, he stopped 80 of 82 shots. More of that, please.
— Jonathan Toews is Jonathan Toews. If this guy is on your team, you’re not thinking about regular-season titles. You’re thinking about Stanley Cups and Olympic gold medals. Some things are indefinable and whatever Toews has that makes teammates want to follow him is one of them. Yes, he’s extremely skilled both offensively and defensively, but however you want to define “want-to,’’ the Hawks captain has more of it than anybody.
— Joel Quenneville is still steering the ship. The Hawks coach again has quite a collection of talent – Kane, Toews, Keith, Crawford, Marian Hossa, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook, Artemi Panarin and Andrew Ladd, among others. But he’s smart, and his decisions rarely come back to haunt him. Despite his occasional wild-eyed descent into the deep end over a referee’s call, there’s something calming about him on the Hawks bench. That helps in the stress of the postseason.
And there will be stress. If the Hawks want to make a stronger case for being a dynasty, winning back-to-back titles would start to shush those who think dynasties begin and end with the Canadiens (13 titles in a 24-season span starting in 1955), the Islanders (four straight titles from 1979-83) and the Oilers (five Cups in seven seasons, the last in 1989-90).
If the Hawks get knocked out of the playoffs, you’ll hear talk of a dying star collapsing on itself. Actually, you already are hearing it. These days, the cool thing to say is that this year’s team is not as good as any of the three Hawks teams that won the Stanley Cup since 2010.
Ignore the cognoscenti. Remember the Hawks’ mettle. And for goodness’ sake, enjoy the show.