The Chicago Blackhawks appear to be on their way to winning their first Stanley Cup since 1961. The Hawks broke down the high-octane offense of the San Jose Sharks and ousted them in a quick four games in the Western Conference Finals. The Sharks’ will was broken early in the series and, regardless of the efforts of veterans Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle, they never gathered the strength to get back into the series.
There is always a large amount of gray area in regards to whether a team was beaten, or just beat itself. However, this series was undoubtedly won by the Hawks, not lost by the Sharks. Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville won the matchup battle throughout the series, pitting his third line against the Sharks’ top line. Dave Bolland should be given all the praise in the world; he absolutely took Joe Thornton out of the series. Bolland contributed offensively as well by creating turnovers and getting pucks to the front of the net. But he has not been the only Blackhawks forward to elevate his game in these playoffs.
Everyone now knows about the abilities of Dustin Byfuglien. It was puzzling to see Bryan Bickell on the top line instead of Byfuglien early in the Conference Semifinals. But once Byfuglien started alongside Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, his impact was felt immediately. He contributed three game winners against the Sharks and frustrated opposing defenders in front of the net with his big body.
When asked about the presence of Byfuglien on Chicago’s top line, Blackhawks fan Mike Vorel said, “Big Buff has done an incredible job of screening the goalie and just creating a lot of traffic in front of the net.”
The list of key players for the Hawks in these playoffs goes on and on, but it all emanates from captain Jonathan Toews. All of the energy, passion and discipline start with Toews, and his attitude has trickled down throughout the team so that these Blackhawks believe it is their time to win the Stanley Cup.
And they’re right; this team is playing with a purpose. We recognized it last year with the Pittsburgh Penguins. It seemed as if Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were willing their team to victory and that they were not going to let anyone stop them from winning the ultimate prize. This year, the Blackhawks are playing with that same sense of purpose. Their ability to fight back from deficits and close out games is the most telling sign. Nothing fazes them.
Having said that, winning the Stanley Cup this year will not be anything close to a cakewalk for Chicago. Assuming the Philadelphia Flyers close out their series with the Montreal Canadiens, the Hawks will face a Flyers team with an equal amount of depth, leadership and talent. They are getting offensive support from their top three lines and goalie Michael Leighton is an absolute rock in net right now. Captain Mike Richards is the wheel that turns all the cogs of the Flyers team, but do not overlook the veteran leadership of former Hart Trophy winner Chris Pronger. He is showing the world that at age 35 he is still one of the best defensemen in the league, and maybe one of the best of all time.
When asked about the impact of Pronger on this Flyers team, Blackhawks fan Steve Hesky said, “There is no doubt that the calm, veteran presence of Pronger has been pivotal for them. He has been here before and everyone knows he’ll be great every night.”
But Chicago knows all of this. They know it will not be easy to take down Philadelphia. They will not overlook the talent and determination of their opponent. They are far too focused on their goal – a goal that the city of Chicago has shared with them since the beginning of the season. These Blackhawks are ready to win the Stanley Cup.