Nov 6, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) and Winnipeg Jets right wing Blake Wheeler (26) skate after the puck during the third period at the United Center. The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Winnipeg Jets 4-1. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
So how do the Blackhawks fit in the new Western Conference? First and foremost, as the sole NHL institution remaining in the conference, and one on the verge of dynasty, the Blackhawks are now the measuring stick for other Western Conference teams on multiple levels (which successful teams usually become), but more importantly, other teams are coming to admit that the Blackhawks, like Red Wings before them, are now the post-season gatekeepers in the Western Conference. In other words, the road to the Stanley Cup Finals from the west will now be running through Chicago; to even have a shot at hoisting the Cup, Western Conference teams need to figure out how to beat the Blackhawks four times. This makes regular season games against the Hawks all the more meaningful for other Western Conference teams.
With only five consecutive playoff appearances since the 2008-2009 season, the Blackhawks are not quite as a proven post-season staple as the Red Wings have been for the past two decades, but all the aforementioned facts give every indication the chances of this becoming a new trend in Chicago are all but certain. Furthermore, the Blackhawks have already proved to be incredible crafty and diligent in the post season. The Hawks were the only team to take the would-be Stanley Cup runners-up Vancouver Canucks to seven games in the 2011 playoffs (losing in Game 7 OT), not to mention their historical 3-1 come-from-behind victory against the Red Wings in the 2013 post season.
Yes, the reigning Stanley Cup Champions always have a target on their back in the eyes of other teams, but the Hawks new role in the conference light some addition flames under Western Conference teams when they take the ice against the indian-head sweaters. Evidence of this seems to already be showing in the opening month of 2013-2014 season given the way games have gone down when the Hawks have played Western Conference teams. Just going by penalty minutes alone, the St. Louis Blues came out vendetta-gunning against the Hawks (ironically in a respect-demanding fashion reminiscent of how the Hawks used to play the Red Wings) in their first two meetings this season. The Minnesota Wild put up a Madhouse-on-Madison-silencing five goals during their first game in Chicago. And even the conference-bottom-dwelling Calgary Flames managed to steal an OT win against the Hawks.
So what do the Blackhawks need to do? Come out firing on all cylinders and never give their Western Conference opponents an inch! The Hawks certainly have the talent and leadership to accomplish this, and when they have all their wheels turning in the right direction (i.e. the second game against the Wild and both games against the Winnipeg Jets) the Hawks can blow teams away.
So suffice it to say, to hold their own in the new Wild Western Conference, the Chicago Blackhawks need to be consistently quick on the draw, and if they are, Hawkey Town most certainly will become the New Detroit and repeatedly show their younger western opponents how to play Old Time hockey.
FOR THE DAGGER!