Blackhawks Bandwagon a Rocky Ride
CHICAGO -- The feel is so different when the time is now. And really, it's more complicated than that for the Chicago Blackhawks.
For three years, the 'Hawks have grown together, following, roughly, 30 years of bad. Add to that a city used to failed sports teams.
So the kids came in to play for the Hawks, and it was cute to see them do anything at all. Look at them skate without falling down! Then it was nice to see them win a little. And now?
"You see people on the street and it used to be 'OK, now let's get to the playoffs,' " Hawks wing Patrick Kane said. "[Now] it's 'Let's win the Cup.' "
The Hawks beat Nashville 2-0 Sunday night in Game 2 of their Western Conference series. And after losing Game 1, this will serve to calm Chicago, which is nervously trusting these young Hawks not to break its heart again.
The thing is, this really is the perfect time for the Hawks, an organization that was stuck in the past for decades but has broken free from that and started hoping for the future.
Kane and Jonathan Toews came in three years ago and made the Hawks relevant again, setting up a tandem that could stick together and become icons.
Are the Hawks really ready for this now?
Well, they handled it well Sunday night, as Nashville tried to clog up the middle of the ice and make the Hawks skate around them. But that worked in Game 1, when it really shouldn't have.
Chicago is much faster, much better at handling the puck. And it already reached the conference finals last year. So why did the Hawks allow a lesser team such as Nashville to push them around? Why are the Hawks still learning lessons?
More abrasive. That's what Hawks coach Joel Quenneville told the team it would have to be. Because if Nashville had won Sunday, then for the first time, these Hawks would have been on the verge of being disappointments.
"We've got guys who love to score goals and make plays," Toews said.
"It can be hard to make the simple plays when you can take a chance and make a pretty play. But that's not how you win in the playoffs."
Yeah, yeah. Fine. The lessons should have been learned already.
The Hawks did come out with a couple of big hits on the Predators, but Nashville kept stuffing things up. It wasn't until Dave Bolland scored in the middle of the second period that the Hawks went up 1-0. In the third, things changed.
Chicago seemed to break the Predators somehow, beat them to all the angles, confuse them. Kane scored midway into the period, and the game was over.
The Blackhawks are a happy story in Chicago again, but they are going to play on their fans' psyches for as long as this playoff run lasts. They have the perfect balance of youth and experience. In January, there was scandal when Kane, who was with two other players, was photographed in the back of a limo without his shirt on, apparently drinking, and with a couple of young women.
He apologized, saying "It's probably time to grow up a little bit." I don't know. Twenty-one-year-old hockey players with women and alcohol in the back of a limo? That's a problem?
Again, they weren't driving, but were in a limo. It didn't seem irresponsible, to me, but instead like a bunch of young guys having fun together. And frankly, that translates into energy for this team, part of the buzz, part of what works for these guys.
It beats the stuffiness that had surrounded this franchise before they arrived.
You cannot separate the present from the past here. This franchise was living on the Cup it won in 1961 and some near-misses over the next decade. But Billy Wirtz, who owned the team, refused to move to the modern era, pay modern salaries, put the games on this newfangled invention called TV.
When the old man died, and his son, Rocky Wirtz, took over, things changed immediately. But the new Hawks had to make reparations with the past.
He started to bring back many of the legends the Hawks had abandoned. Rocky put the games on TV and hired the Cubs' marketing guru, John McDonough, to be president.
The team spent two years holding ceremonies, apologizing to the present about the past, all in the name of looking to the future.
On Sunday, they showed Bobby Hull, the legend who had been sitting somewhere at the game, and god did he look awful. His face now resembles a big blob of mashed potatoes. And maybe an hour later, I was looking at Toews, seeing the scars on his lip and under his nose.
He is already looking so much older than he did three years ago. Chicagoans aren't just hoping he'll be a big face of mashed potatoes on the scoreboard someday, too.
They are demanding it.