Chicago is plagued. A near-champion team calls this city home, yet the streets are filled with a hushed apprehension. There is little swagger or boasting from sports fans, something this town used to be known for.
Although some Blackhawks fans seem to be enjoying this playoff run with hopeful confidence, at every turn throughout these 2013 NHL playoffs, most fans and media members have been questioning the Hawks' ability to win. The first round against the Minnesota Wild would be the exception to this, but since game two against the Detroit Red Wings in round two, the Blackhawks have had to make the case for themselves.
This team won three games in a row, facing elimination in each, for the first time in team history, and everyone was trembling in their boots at the thought of taking on the physical L.A. Kings and their all-world goalie. So much for that. The Blackhawks took L.A's best punches, time and time again throughout the five-game series, and answered every time.
The Blackhawks knocked that heralded-goalie, Jonathan Quick, out of game two, and accomplished something no team had in months when they beat the Kings on their home ice in L.A. in game four. Still, game five felt like a must-win for the Blackhawks, especially as fans sat on their hands in the United Center after the Kings tied the game twice in the third period.
That was just one more bit of adversity for the Blackhawks to overcome, as they weathered the King's best efforts yet again throughout the first overtime. In the second overtime, Patrick Kane capped-off a hat trick to send the team to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Despite all of this, the same concerns are being sounded:
"Boston is playing so good- they swept the Penguins."
"Tuukka Rask is playing out of his mind."
"The Penguins only scored two goals against them, how will we score on Boston?"
"This series is going at least six games, probably seven. I hope they win."
The time has come to stop this.
Is Rask better than Quick? Was L.A.'s unbeaten-at-home streak any less impressive than what the Boston Bruins were able to accomplish against the Pittsburgh Penguins? Have the Blackhawks answered every challenge that they have faced thus far in the playoffs?
This team overcame a 3-1 deficit for the first time in team history. This team made a bigger, stronger team look silly at points with their skill, and quickly solved he who is hailed as the world's best goalie. When the Blackhawks needed him the most, in games five through seven against Detroit, Corey Crawford played his best hockey of the season, and has remained to be one of the most consistent players on the team throughout the playoffs.
Coach Quenneville and his staff performed their best feat of the season when they kept the team focused when trailing game six entering the third period in Detroit. The team answered with three goals in the first half of that period. The coaching staff again worked brilliance the next game of that series. The team remained focus, shrugging-off the would-be game-winner from Niklas Hjalmarsson which was disallowed, and rallied to complete their historic comeback in overtime of game seven.
The staff has pushed the right buttons consistently this year, and they clearly have the ability to properly motivate this team, namely when things look the worst. On top of all that, a large part of this team has been here and done it before.
I do not pretend to know how the Blackhawks will win this series, I just believe that they will. The team has given me every reason to believe in them, and I want to enjoy what is left of this fantastic playoff run. This team has offensive firepower, a willing and committed defense, and a goalie playing the best hockey of his career.
Unpredictability is the name of the game in the NHL Playoffs, let alone the Stanley Cup Finals. The Chicago Blackhawks have just as good a chance as taking this series in four or seven games as the Boston Bruins do- so why be doom and gloom?
We live in Chicago. We root for the Blackhawks- the greatest team in the NHL. They had the best record during the regular season, have stepped-up to every playoff challenge with brilliance, and have the depth and experience to slay the giant ahead of them that is the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals.
So, how about a bit of confidence? I'll take the Blackhawks in five. I realize its a roll of the dice, and I will be just as happy if they win it seven, but I am a Blackhawks fan. I love watching this team play hockey, and I want to enjoy this as much as possible. Until it is no longer viable, I will count on the Hawks to take care of this series quicker than would seem likely.
If there is one truth to the NHL playoffs, it is that likelihood should be thrown out the window.
I hope the crowd at the United Center tonight is loud and boisterous throughout the game, whether the Blackhawks are up by three or down by three. Nothing would be surprising anymore, which means they can overcome anything.
Maybe its a bad side of the Cub fan in me, but I would enjoy seeing Blackhawks fans "believe" as opposed to "hope."