It ain’t easy being the defending Stanley Cup champions. As most recent hoister of hockey’s holy grail, the Chicago Blackhawks get every opponent’s best, every night. You often hear the term, ‘measuring stick game,’ used in lead up to a match against the Hawks. They are the team every NHL club hopes to compare with. Tonight, the defending champs host the unproven Minnesota Wild for the first time since Round 1 of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. And of course, the measuring sticks are out.
The Wild are 5-3-3 to start the season. A respectable record for a 2013 playoff team with a wealth of young talent and veteran high-end depth. However, the Wild haven’t really been tested yet by the top teams in the Western Conference. Leading scorer Zach Parise told the Star Tribune, “We haven’t seen Chicago, St. Louis, Colorado, San Jose. We haven’t seen any of those top teams yet, so for us to play these guys and see where we’re at, you can’t get a better opponent than the Blackhawks.” Courtesy of Michael Russo, Minnesota Star Tribune. Read full article here.
The Hawks are accustomed to measuring stick obsessed competition. Exactly one week ago they hosted the up-and-coming Toronto Maple Leafs in a game that was supposed to determine how far-along the Leafs are. The Hawks toyed with their former Norris Division rivals, beating the Buds 3-1 in a game that was never as close as the final score suggests. The Wild may suffer a similar fate if they allow the Hawks the time and space the Leafs provided.
The Hawks 6-1-3 record is fourth best in the NHL. Even more impressive, they only trailed on the scoreboard for a combined 4 minutes and 57 seconds, as of October 23rd. See tweet by TSN’s James Duthie.
In their most recent game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Hawks did in fact trail for significant stretches of a game for the first time all season. However, their ability to stay alive in a contest was on display again. The Hawks chased deficits of 2-0, 3-2, and 5-4 against the high-scoring Lightning. Despite falling behind thrice, they found a way to draw level each time. Even when it looked like they might lose their second regulation game of the season captain Jonathan Toews was awarded a gift goal courtesy of a gaffe by Lightning defenceman Radko Gudas (the guy Iginla always fights). Watch full game highlights here, courtesy of NHL.com.
The defending champ is always used as a measuring stick team, and sometimes the challenger’s success against the Cup winner foreshadows a bright future. Last season’s reigning champions’ the Los Angeles Kings met the Chicago Blackhawks on the opening day of the season. The Hawks won comfortably, and never looked back, playing their first 24 games without losing in regulation. The measurement of best-in-the-West was put to the ultimate test in the Conference Finals when the Hawks and Kings went toe-to-toe. Hawks won handily in five games.
This season the St. Louis Blues have been the only team able to beat the Blackhawks in regulation. Good omen for St. Louis.
It’s hard to be the best. Thus, there is probably a really good reason why NHL teams don’t often repeat as champion. I wrote an article listing 5 reasons, back in August. You can view that here. But this Hawks team might be different. They have won the Cup twice in four years. Winning two elevates their status into potential dynasty mode. Dynasty teams don’t follow the same rules as regular Cup winners. If anyone can repeat in this era, the Hawks are probably it. They have already overcome the biggest hurdle facing a two-time champion when they proved they could win last season with the core that achieved championship status in 2010. If the current core can win 2, they can win 3. See Red Wings 97′-02′, and Devils 95′-03′.