The Chicago Blackhawks' attitude all last (shortened) season was earned as the best team in the regular season, but they went into the playoffs a little overconfident and it nearly came back to bite them in the ass. When they beat Minnesota in five games, they hungrily looked forward to taking on their historic rivals, the Detroit Red Wings. Everyone expected them to sweep, like they had done with the regular season series. Nobody expected them to be down 3-1 in the series a week later.
The quips and quotes coming out of the Chicago dressing room reflected their own disbelief at their position. They couldn't understand how they weren't winning. They blamed puck luck and hitting goalposts (NBC did the work for them and kept track of how many posts they'd hit in at least one of the games in the series). The general takeaway from the Blackhawks was that they truly believed they were too good to lose.
And in the end, they won. But not until after they'd lost all composure in the Detroit series. In a single game, their perfect playoff PK streak was broken, they were shut out for the first time all post-season, and their captain took three straight penalties in the second period, needing one of his defensemen to come into the penalty box, tap him on the head, and calm him down like a child.
They called the Detroit series a turning point for their team. Was it? Possibly. We lamented The One Goal that would have sent us to the Conference Final for the first time since 2009; they dispatched their next two opponents in five and six games, respectively, and won their second Cup in four years. But did they really learn their lesson? I don't think they did.
Give them credit for beating St. Louis after going down 2-0 in the series. Give them credit for beating the Wild in six (but not too much because let's be serious here). Give them credit for forcing a Game 7 after being down 3-1 against the Kings. But also give them credit for the monumentally stupid hit by Brent Seabrook on David Backes. Give them credit for the taunting clearly heard on the replay audio, "Wakey, wakey, Backes!" Give them credit for having their captain say something that prompted Alexander Steen to yell at Toews to, "Have some fucking class, Jonny!" Give them credit for their coach (of an Original Six team, for all the frothy-mouthed preaching about having class) to infamously grab his crotch at the referees and incur a $25,000 fine from the league.
And give them credit for their 18 blown leads in the playoffs. Six of those were 2-goal leads. Four of those were 2-0 leads.
The Chicago Blackhawks didn't learn their lesson from last year. When they were down 3-1 to Los Angeles just a week ago, they said all the pressure was on the Kings to close out the series. No, the pressure wasn't on the defending champs to not lose. Because after dropping to third in their division (behind the Avalanche, of all teams) and seventh in the league a year after running away with the President's Trophy in a shortened season in which they were relatively untouched by injuries, they still thought they were too good to lose.
The loss has already been described as "devastating" and the Blackhawks were presumed to be "inconsolable" in their dressing room after their Game 7 OT loss at home. Quotes came filing out again, this time much more somber. The coach said he's never had a loss like this. They players said it's tough to realize their season is over. But their captain had a real gem.
Toews: "It’s no fun right now. It’s not what we felt we deserved." #Blackhawks— Tracey Myers (@TramyersCSN) June 2, 2014
Who is "we" here? "We" the fans? I can understand that. But "we" the players? Sit down and let me learn you a thing about "deserving" to win something.
The 1996-97 Red Wings were celebrating their first Stanley Cup win in decades. Days after the Final win, two championship players and the team masseuse were in a limousine accident caused by an intoxicated driver. One of the players escaped with injuries he would ultimately recover from. The team masseuse would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. And Vladimir Konstantinov would never play hockey again.
When the Red Wings won the Cup after the 1997-98 season, you could look at that team and say they deserved to win it for Vladdy. He became their inspiration to defend the title, and they are the last team to do so successfully in the NHL.
But they didn't deserve it. They earned it. They still went out and won four series, sixteen victories, a second consecutive sweep of the Stanley Cup Final.
When Detroit won in 2002, they were accused of buying a Cup. Funny, when you consider they were one of the seemingly few teams to beat the so-called President's Trophy curse that somehow prevents the regular season champion from winning it all in June. Funny, when you consider they were down 2-0 in their opening-round series to Vancouver before a Nicklas Lidstrom center ice goal got them back on track. (They went on to win the next four games to take the series.) Funny, when you consider Carolina won the first game of the Final in overtime, looking to extend their Cinderella story and defeat the team everybody picked to win.
In the end, that 2002 team won. They got the sixteen victories with one of the greatest Red Wings teams ever assembled. Hall of Famers played on their fourth line, for goodness' sake. But no one just handed them the Cup. They didn't buy it off the Keeper. They earned it, fair and square, just like the Chicago Blackhawks did in 2013. But you don't deserve to win a series in which you're down 3-1 because you did it the year before and now you're the reigning champs. You deserve to win that series when your number on the scoreboard is higher at the end of the Game 7 you rallied to force with two consecutive victories.
Note to Jonathan Toews: you don't deserve shit.