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Blackhawks again on the cover of Sports Illustrated, predicted to repeat as Stanley Cup champs

Duncan Keith hadn’t heard that Patrick Kane was on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated. But he was certainly amused at how things have changed over the course of one season, both in reality and perception.

“Is he?” Keith asked. “Wasn’t he getting talked about getting traded last year? And now he’s the face of the franchise? How does that work? Interesting.”

Indeed, the Hawks have gone from shaky ground to lofty status as the NHL’s most vaunted franchise. After all, it’s the Hawks’ fourth SI cover this year. And based on the excitement among both the players and Hawks fans, maybe print isn’t dead, after all.

“I got a text about it last night,” Kane said. “It’s pretty exciting — not only for yourself, personally, but for where this team is at. It seems like we’ve been on it quite a bit lately. It’s four times in the past year or so. So it’s a good thing for hockey, and obviously being a Blackhawk helps you get those opportunities.”

The magazine was calling for the Hawks to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, predicted to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Final.

The Hawks have plenty of notoriety lately. First, there was Kane’s jaw-dropping stickhandling video, which has been viewed more than 2.3 million times on YouTube since it came out less than two weeks ago. Then there was Brandon Bollig’s hilarious parody video, which went viral on Monday.

“Oh, man, that was funny,” Kane said. “We were watching it after practice on Monday and I literally had tears coming out of my eyes watching it.”

That same night, pro wrestler CM Punk — a big Hawks fan — wore a Keith jersey during WWE Raw. And while he wound up having it torn off of him as he got pummeled, it was another bit of national exposure for the champs.

“I met him at the end of the season and he seemed like a really great guy,” Keith said. “Kind of humbling to see him wearing my jersey out there, it was awesome.”

Now comes another SI cover as the hype machine really kicks in less than a week away from Tuesday’s season-opener against the Washington Capitals. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville isn’t worried, pointing out how many big situations — from two Cup runs to the Olympics to the 2009 Winter Classic — the veteran Hawks have been through.

“Everybody’s going to be ready for when they play Chicago, particularly early on in the year,” Quenneville said. “We’ve got a target. Let’s expect it.”