There they are, back in the playoffs again for a fifth consecutive year. The Chicago Blackhawks, named the worst franchise in professional sports just nine years ago by ESPN, have become no stranger to postseason hockey.
Since winning the 2010 Stanley Cup, the franchise’s first since 1961, the Blackhawks have failed to advance past the first round of the postseason. They will look to end their recent playoff struggles tonight as they host the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have all appeared in each of the last five postseasons for the Blackhawks, so they are certainly familiar with playoff expectations.
What they are not familiar with, however, is the Cup-or-bust expectations they enter this postseason with. In a sports city known for playoff failures (specifically those of the Cubs), that’s not a good thing.
The Blackhawks enter the playoffs as the Presidents’ Trophy winners by virtue of having the NHL’s best record at 36-5-7 in the lockout-shortened regular season. After accumulating a point in an NHL-record 24 consecutive games to begin the season, fans have come to expect nothing short of a fifth Stanley Cup, and rightfully so.
The Blackhawks were clearly the best team in the NHL throughout the 48-game regular season, finishing with a league-most 77 points. But as Chicago sports history will tell you, regular season records mean nothing once the playoffs begin.
Since 2000, a major Chicago professional sports team has earned the top seed in the playoffs a total of seven times, and only once has it resulted in a championship. To wit:
- 2000 White Sox: 95-67, lost in ALDS to Seattle 3-0
- 2005 White Sox: 99-63, won World Series
- 2006 Bears: 13-3, lost Super Bowl XLI to Indianapolis 29-17
- 2008 Cubs: 97-64, lost in NLDS to L.A. Dodgers 3-0
- 2011 Bulls: 62-20, lost in conference finals to Miami 4-1
- 2012 Bulls: 50-16, lost in first round to Philadelphia 4-2
- 2013 Blackhawks: 36-5-7, playoff result TBD
(Editor’s Note: The 2001 Bears and 2010 Blackhawks both finished second in their respective conferences.)
The best (or worst) example of that infamous group is the 2008 Cubs. On the 100-year anniversary of their last World Series championship, the northsiders seemed destined to end the most infamous drought in all of sports as they cruised to an NL-best 97-64 during the regular season and earned homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs. Yet in typical Cubbie fashion, they whiffed badly, getting swept out of the playoffs by the Dodgers.
You can argue that the pressure to win overwhelmed Lou Piniella’s team, but it’s the perfect cautionary tale for the Blackhawks as they enter Game 1. They will surely be Cup favorites, but if the Stanley Cup does not return to the Windy City in June, the 2012-13 Blackhawks season will enter the conversation with the rest as one of the biggest playoff chokes in Chicago sports history.