Halfway through the lockout-shortened NHL season, the Chicago Blackhawks were nearly perfect. At 21-0-3, they had taken 45 of a possible 48 standings points and were so good they were crossing over into mainstream sports media. Streaks tend to draw massive attention.
But unfortunately for Chicago they are also virtually worthless in the long run. Yes, they have piled up wins and impressive stat lines for players like Patrick Kane. But once you get to the Stanley Cup playoffs, the season is reduced to one best-of-seven series at a time. The Blackhawks are now 24-3-3 after a loss Tuesday to the Anaheim Ducks. They still lead the Western Conference, but they are now only three points ahead of the red-hot Ducks (22-3-4, 48 points). Anaheim now has two wins against Chicago this season, one in a shootout, and the teams face off once more March 29.
And even if the Blackhawks hold them off, what does that get them? A first-round match with an aging but tested playoff team like San Jose, Phoenix, Detroit or -- god forbid -- Vancouver, which has had several epic playoff battles with Chicago over the years. That's probably the last team it would want to see early in the postseason. Too often teams that cruise into the postseason aren't ready for the immediate jump in intensity.
Just ask the Capitals, who in 2009-10 won 14 games in a row and were making a mockery of NHL competition en route to the Presidents' Trophy for best overall record. But they stalled after the two-week Winter Olympic break and lost in a stunning first-round upset to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games. That regular season was as memorable as anything in recent Washington sports history. But in the end, the Caps were left with nothing except a missed opportunity. Regular season hockey is not playoff hockey no matter how good you are. And that's a lesson the Blackhawks need to learn.
"We legitimately had a chance to do well and win. I felt that," former Caps winger Mike Knuble said earlier this season. "I think that's my only regret that you didn't do better. I don't think we showed as good as we could have."
- Brian McNally