The Chicago Blackhawks are the 2013 Stanley Cup Champions. As nice as it sounds, the celebration is cut short by another season, and the title is put up for contention once again. With 22 games remaining, will the Blackhawks put themselves in good position for a repeat playoff performance?
Record: 35-11-14, Second Place
Leading Scorer: Patrick Kane 63 points
Where They’ll Finish: First Place, 114 points
Pros: The Blackhawks have the experience necessary to play a full 82-game schedule, even though their best regular season in team history happened in the shortened season of 2013. The ‘Hawks’ core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa have all found their scoring touch, and when Conn Smythe winner Patrick Kane is on a team’s second line, he is going to give the opposition hell. The Blackhawks have four lines that are capable of putting the puck in the net, making it nearly impossible for a team to match up lines. The Olympics will keep the minds of their best players (Ten in all) sharp, while goaltenders Corey Crawford and Antti Raanta can rest for the long journey ahead. Duncan Keith is the front-runner for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, with 45 assists and a +19 rating, and his pairing with Brent Seabrook is virtually airtight during the playoffs.
Cons: The Blackhawks don’t have the same depth they used to; the change wasn’t as dramatic as it was after their cup victory in 2010, but key cogs such as Dave Bolland and Viktor Stalberg are there no longer. Corey Crawford will have to be the answer in-goal, as Raanta is playing his first year of pro hockey in North America, and could easily fold under pressure. Hossa, Michal Rozsival, Sharp, and Michal Handzus are all aging, and could run out of gas if the Blackhawks happen to go on another 20+ game playoff run (all four players are participating in the Olympics). Bryan Bickell hasn’t been the same man he was last year, with only eight goals this season (he had nine in last year’s post-season alone).
Coming Up: The Blackhawks keep the excitement from the Olympics rolling, as they face the Pittsburgh Penguins outdoors at Soldier Field in their second game back from the break. The Blackhawks face a playoff team 13 times in their final 22 games, including the division-leading St. Louis Blues twice, Pittsburgh Penguins twice, and Boston Bruins once.
Love ‘em or hate em, the Blackhawks remain one of the NHL’s superpowers, and could for quite sometime. Barring any injuries, this team’s core will continue to stick together, and the bottom six forwards, paired with solid defense and goaltending, make them hard to stop.
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