Sport The Chicago Blackhawks provide a cautionary tale for the Penguins

23:55  20 february  2018
23:55  20 february  2018 Source:   Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t look like playoff contenders when they played their first game of the 2017-18 season. More like shoo-ins to earn their Sports Home. Steelers. Penguins . Pirates. High School Sports.

Right now, arguably the hottest "it" team in professional sports is the Chicago Blackhawks . With two 20-year old All Stars in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and the third-most points

Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews© Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews

The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t look like playoff contenders when they played their first game of the 2017-18 season.

More like shoo-ins to earn their fourth Stanley Cup in less than a decade.

That’s because they performed a 10-1 vivisection on the Penguins Oct. 5 at the United Center, in a game that wasn’t nearly as competitive as the score might suggest.

“It seemed like they were skating around us every shift,” Penguins forward Jake Guentzel recalled recently.

Indeed, Chicago made the Penguins, coming off a 5-4 overtime loss to St. Louis at PPG Paints Arena in their season opener the previous evening, look as if they’d been forced to travel to Illinois on foot.

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Look at how the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL have benefited from high draft picks, they are now in the Western Conference finals and have brought hockey fandom back to Chicago . Same can be said for the Portland Trailblazers of the NBA.

nhl. chicago blackhawks . pittsburgh penguins . The Penguins might have to call up a third goalie, because I bet both Antti Niemi and Matt Murray suffered severe burns on the backs of their necks from that red light going on so many damn times.

“They were great that night,” Penguins defenseman Ian Cole said. “They were fast, they were strong and they won puck battles. They could create, they could make plays, they obviously buried all of their chances.

“They were doing like the Harlem Globetrotters, and we were the Washington Generals. That’s what it felt like, at least.

“We left there thinking, ‘Wow, this team has still got it. They’re really good.’ ”

Indeed, the only question about the Blackhawks after that game might have been whether they could become the first NHL team to go 82-0 during the regular season.

Well, that one was answered four nights later, when Chicago ended up on the shallow end of a 4-3 overtime final against Toronto, but it’s been replaced by quite a few others.

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While the 2016 NHL Draft lacks some of the drama that was provided leading up to last year’s draft, when Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel vied for the right to go first overall, there is nevertheless some very good talent The 2015–16 season for the Chicago Blackhawks certainly had its ups and downs.

The Chicago Blackhawks ' Patrick Kane (88) and Ryan Hartman (38) celebrate after Hartman scores against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first period at the United Center in Chicago on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. (John J. Kim/ Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images).

Like, what has happened to the Blackhawks since their 4-1-1 start?

Why are they anchored to the bottom of the Central Division standings,13 points out of a Western Conference playoff spot going into Tuesday’s games?

And, of more concern in this area, is what has happened to Chicago a cautionary tale for the Penguins?

There are, after all, some striking parallels between the franchises.

Each has won three of the past nine Cups; the rest of the league combined for the other three.

Each has a lineup liberally sprinkled with players who have been among the game’s most prominent and productive in recent seasons.

Each was widely predicted to contend not only for a division title, but for yet another league championship this spring.

At this point, however, the Penguins — on a 10-1-1 roll as they prepare to visit Carolina Friday — have overcome a lackluster first half and climbed to within one point of first-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division.

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The Chicago Blackhawks opened the season with a 10-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins , embarrassing the defending Stanley Cup champions. 10 Goals, 44 shots on goal

Chicago, conversely, sits 11th in its conference, from which eight teams will reach the postseason.

Numerous factors — from injuries that limited No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford to 28 appearances in the first 60 games to personnel constraints caused by the NHL’s salary cap to down seasons for numerous core veterans — have contributed to the Blackhawks’ miseries.

So far, the Penguins haven’t allowed whatever adversities they’ve experienced to sabotage their season.

Perhaps, in part, because they recognized there is no tangible carryover from anything they’ve achieved the past couple of springs.

“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done the last two years,” defenseman Olli Maatta said. “It’s a clean slate every time you start a new season, and you have to battle your way into the playoffs.”

Mind you, there’s no indication Chicago’s mindset was askew, at least early in the season.

It certainly didn’t appear to be when the Blackhawks were running up that nine-goal victory in early October.

“They were very, very good,” Cole said. “If you were to tell me then where they are now, I would have thought you were crazy, for sure.”

Dave Molinari: and Twitter @MolinariPG

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