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Can the Hawks Handle The Pressure of Being Defending Champs?

The 2010-11 team did, but this team has distinct advantages over that one

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
    Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks hoist the Stanley Cup Trophy after defeating the Boston Bruins in Game Six of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 24, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.

    If there is going to be a dominant narrative for the Chicago Blackhawks as their Stanley Cup title defense opens Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals, it will be whether or not they can stave off the "dreaded" Cup hangover.

    All offseason long, the players on this team have said that it's crucial to them that they get off to a better start than they did the last time they won the Cup in 2010, and it's easy to see why they feel that way. That year, the Hawks had an eight-game winning streak at one point, and yet even with the ability that led them to that streak they still had to rely on the Minnesota Wild to beat the Dallas Stars and secure the eighth seed for the Hawks in the process in order to get into the playoffs.

    The 2010-11 Blackhawks weren't the only team that had trouble dealing with the pressure of coming back as champions. The Boston Bruins had a rough go of it early in their title defense in 2011, starting out 3-7 and having to fend off questions about their sluggish play. They responded to that start by winning 14 of 15 games (their only loss in that stretch came in a shootout) and ended up making a strong push to the playoffs once again.

    Finally, there are the 2013 Los Angeles Kings, who started out with an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Blackhawks when they raised their banner to the rafters of the Staples Center, went 3-5-2 in the season's first 10 games before bouncing back and making it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the Hawks.

    With that previous history as background, a couple of things immediately become clear. For starters, every team is going to go through lulls, especially in an 82 game season, so it is not necessarily a cause for concern if a team goes through a dry spell, even early in the season. So many times a team isn't quite firing on all cylinders for whatever reason coming out of camp, and in the situation of a team like the 2013-14 Hawks, that reason could end up being that they didn't have all of their players participating in preseason games, so they'll have a bit of catching up to do.

    In addition to that, the Hawks have the added luxury of having the same advantages that the Bruins did after their 2011 title: veteran leadership. The Bruins benefitted in a big way from having guys like Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara in their locker room following their rough start, and the team responded well to the early season adversity. With guys like Jonathan Toews and  Duncan Keith, who have been through this wringer before, even younger players on the Hawks aren't likely to get too discouraged if the title defense gets off to a bad start.

    Finally though, there is one huge difference between the Hawks' teams that won Cups in 2010
    and 2013, and that is the continuity of the roster. Those 2010-11 Hawks had an all-new  goaltending corps and a slew of new forwards after the team had been dismantled for salary cap reasons the previous summer. This team doesn't have to deal with any of that, as the only pieces that left in the offseason were a third line center (Dave Bolland), a fourth-liner/penalty killer (Michael Frolik) and a back-up goaltender (Ray Emery).

    As to the questions of whether the Blackhawks will be able to withstand the rigors of a Cup defense and avoid the dreaded Cup hangover, the answer is likely a resounding yes. This team has seen adversity of varying sorts, including the decimation of their roster in 2010 and in facing elimination at the hands of a Detroit Red Wings team that many thought the Hawks would simply roll over in the 2013 Cup run, and so a little bump in the road in the regular season gauntlet is likely to roll right off their backs.

    Obviously, there is no way of knowing this for sure, but when motivated players like Toews and others are the ones leading the locker room, and have been through this situation before, it's safe to say that the Hawks will know how to handle any adversity that comes their way.