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Blackhawks Tue Feb 25 2014
It seems like yesterday we were asking ourselves if sending NHL players to Sochi was a good -- heck, safe -- idea to compete on bigger ice for gold. Ten players from the Blackhawks made the trip to Sochi with six of them coming home with a medal (three gold, three silver -- let's not get into the bronze).
There really wasn't any doubt whether Team Canada was going to wipe through this tournament, especially in the preliminary rounds. But to have witnessed Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, Sidney Crosby and the rest of that powerhouse blank the highest scoring team in Team USA in the semis to then turn around and do the same to the Swedes in the gold medal game is nothing short of impressive.
So, now that the most expensive Olympics in history (seriously, $51 billion? And you thought Chicago politics was dirty) is in the books, with Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp bringing back gold and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Marcus Krüger claiming silver, the rest of the NHL universe can get back on track for its stretch run to the most prized trophy: The Stanley Cup.
Photo Courtesy of AP / Matt Slocum
The first big question is whether or not there will be a fatigue factor amongst any of the players. There's the thought that Toews, Keith and Sharp are riding high from capturing gold, while Hjalmarsson, Oduya and Krüger, albeit a little short of their goal, still would be satisfied having medaled. It's Patrick Kane who might be the wild card after the United States fell flat after such a promising start.
Kane finished the Olympics with four assists and no goals, although he did hit the post on a penalty shot, his second attempt against goalie Tuukka Rask on the bronze-winning Finnish team. So if anyone has a hangover after this trip, it could be Kane; although, no one ever accused Kane of not being able to play through a hangover.
At any rate, it appeared most of the skaters on Team USA were in a funk after losing a close-in-score (1-0), but-not-really-close-at-all game against the Canadians. Keith and the rest of his defensive mates choked out the US along the boards and kept them at best 15-feet away from goalie Carey Price throughout most of the contest.
It became obvious Team USA, Kane included, simply wanted the quickest exit to Sochi International Airport. And who could blame them? The matchup between the two nations was bound to happen, which would bring with it a lot of hype and anticipation for revenge from the 2010 gold medal game in Vancouver. Once the final horn sounded in that semifinal game, the thought of playing for bronze must have felt like claiming a measly plastic harmonica with remaining tickets at a fair, knowing you don't have enough for the sweet Megadeth mirror.
In the end, Kane more than likely will get over it and should return to form for another shot at Lord Stanley. In the meantime, head coach Joel Quenneville has started skating exercises and drills at Johnny's Ice House for those back this side of freedom. The schedule picks right back up later this week with a game against the Rangers in the Garden and then back home for an outdoor game at Soldier Filed against the Penguins.
There are 22 games remaining on the schedule, which is crazy to even fathom. Just as quickly as we anticipated the Olympics, they've come and gone. The same will apply for the remainder of this regular season. Time to forget about how cute T.J. Oshie's shootout was, considering he'll likely be playing against the Blackhawks in a seven-game series in round two. And it's time to forget about losing out on Bronze, settling for Silver and even taking the gold through Team Canada's dominance. The Cup is the next prize to claim for the Blackhawks, and it's something everyone on this team can contribute in winning -- again.