Anyone who has been following hockey this season already knows what a spectacular exciting team the young Chicago Blackhawks are. With young phenoms like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews making regular appearances on the highlight reel, and Patrick Sharp really coming into his own as a 2 way player the Blackhawks have been one of the best teams in the league so far this season, with only 6 regulation losses in 31 games so far.
Of course, the Blackhawks haven’t made the playoffs since 2002, so many people are wondering if this team is just playing over their heads right now. However, those doubters are starting to dwindle as the Chicago Blackhawks keep on piling up win after win. After a convincing victory on the road against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night the Blackhawks extended their current win streak to 7 games, and with each victory this youthful bunch gets a little more swagger in their step.
So is this team a legitimate threat to hoist the Stanley Cup come June? Well, they’ve got some serious hurdles to overcome if they want to do so. First and foremost is their lack of playoff experience. Experience usually trumps pure talent when it comes to success in the postseason, and the Blackhawks are seriously lacking in that regard. Of course, goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin has a Stanley Cup ring to his credit, but questions remain whether he will still be there at the end of the season, or whether the Blackhawks will choose to run with Cristobal Huet, whom they just signed this past off-season.
Besides the lack of playoff experience a lack of grit will also be a big question mark. This team plays a speed and skill game, but as the Ottawa Senators proved in several failed playoff runs talent is often not enough to win in the playoffs. Even the slick, superstar-laden Detroit Red Wings showed their sandpaper last season, winning the physical battles against Pittsburgh to capture the cup.
Speaking of the Red Wings, they might be the biggest obstacle the Chicago Blackhawks face if they hope for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings are the Stanley Cup champs, and the vast playoff experience in their locker room will make them the team to beat come this spring. And it won’t be just the Wings that provide an obstacle to the cup. The league-leading San Jose Sharks have been the best in the West to date, and after their own post-season tribulations over the past several seasons they are arguably the team most hungry to take home the Stanley Cup this June. Throw in the Vancouver Canucks as a dark horse after the Mats Sundin signing, and any team that wants to emerge from the Western Conference definitely has their work cut out for them.
Ultimately, I think the Blackhawks are still at least one or two seasons away from being considered a Stanley Cup contender. Right now there are just too many obstacles for this young team to overcome. If they can make a strong showing in this year’s playoffs their young players will gain the valuable experience needed to succeed in the future. I’m not saying a Stanley Cup in Chicago is an impossibility, but until they’ve cut their teeth in the playoffs at least once I wouldn’t be willing to lay down any money on them.