Commentary

Hawks set to step out of Cup's shadow

With the title celebration just reaching its end, it's too soon to judge these Blackhawks

Updated: October 10, 2010, 4:08 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- They do it right, the Blackhawks. The pregame light show flashing across the ice. The sound track of the HBO miniseries "The Pacific" rising in the background. And then, the 1961 championship team carrying out the new 2010 Stanley Cup banner and handing it off to the new champions.

It was all perfectly choreographed Saturday night right down to the final instructions given to captain Jonathan Toews and fellow Hawks hero Patrick Kane that they would be the last ones to let go of the banner as it was hoisted into the rafters of the United Center.

"We were joking [which] guy could hold on the longest," Toews revealed later. "[Kane] was the last one to let it go."

Fortunately, Kane did eventually relinquish his grip and was not lifted off the ice and into the stratosphere like Toto in "The Wizard of Oz."

You couldn't have blamed him, really. As the player who scored the Cup-winning goal in June and flicked the last piece of confetti from his hair only recently, Kane symbolized the pure, teeth-sinking joy and gratification with which the organization celebrated its first championship in 49 years.

It may be time to turn the proverbial page, and the Hawks may very well be ready to do it, but the matter of going about winning another Cup will have to wait at least until after the weekend. On Saturday, the Hawks dropped their second straight game of the new season 3-2 to their old nemesis, the Detroit Red Wings.

The preamble to the home opener was everything you would expect from a modern Blackhawks production, a 25-minute spine-tingling ceremony that featured Toews, team captain and Conn Smythe winner, carrying the well-traveled Cup -- cleaned, polished and showing no apparent residue from the Fruit Loops and milk Troy Brouwer filled it with this summer -- onto the home ice for the first time.

It was truly moving, especially when you realized that of all the places in Chicago the Cup has been paraded before an adoring public since June, the United Center ice was not one of them. Toews placed it on a pedestal at center ice, gave it a warm last pat and skated off, a gesture that said, "Thanks for a great time, buddy, hope to see you again soon."

"It was really cool to be in our jerseys and on our skates in front of our home crowd and have that applause and see how crazy it is when you actually have the Stanley Cup in our building," Toews said. "For a second, we saw what it felt like to win on our home ice …

"There was nothing better than that [moment]. But I guess that was it."

The hoopla died 12 minutes, 59 seconds into the game, courtesy of a Valtteri Filppula tip-in. Real buzz kills, those Red Wings.

Remember the Winter Classic not all that long ago? New Year's Day of '09, when the then-defending champions defeated the young Blackhawks for the fourth time that season and the second time in three days, when Detroit just seemed to have the Blackhawks' number and maybe even still intimidated them?

The Wings are a popular pick to win the Cup again this season and reminded us Saturday that they will always be a handful. They also reminded us that it will be easy, at least for a little while, to pine for last season and mutter "if only."

If only Dustin Byfuglien was here when they needed his big body planted in front of Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood. If only Ben Eager or Colin Fraser or Adam Burish were around bounce a Red Wing or two on their butts just for the sake of getting the home crowd into it.

If only Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg were still here to make us take depth for granted.

In some ways, it felt the same. The Irish jig guy was there doing his thing in the stands in the third period. They haven't done away with "Chelsea Dagger," although one day soon we may start wishing they do.

And although no one wants to begin the season 0-2, and it is easy to lament the sloppy passing and failure to convert on the power play, it is certainly too early to make any sound deductions about this year's team.

Were the Hawks in Stanley Cup form? They weren't always in Stanley Cup form during the Stanley Cup playoffs, so that's unfair on a variety of levels. But Toews, Kane and Marian Hossa looked like champs at times. Jack Skille scored again. And although new goaltender Marty Turco let the second goal dribble in off his skate, something Antti Niemi didn't do very often, the Hawks could do much, much worse in the net.

Turco has taken the losses, both by one goal, personally. Goalies will do that. But it's surely not a bad sign that he has the same attitude that won the championship last season.

"It's something I have always wanted to be a part of," Turco said of watching the pregame festivities. "It's disappointing not to give the fans what they deserve, especially on a special night like this one, to give them a win against a division rival.

"You dream of winning the Stanley Cup your whole life. I'm glad to be around that atmosphere. It brings back those feelings of how much you want it."

There is more than enough hunger to fuel a new season.

"[The ceremony] makes you even more hungry," Skille said.

But is there enough talent?

"I think our young guys looked great tonight, especially against some of these veteran players on the Red Wings," Toews said. "Sometimes these guys can make you look silly."

He said "young guys." You took it to mean the "new guys," of which there are eight. But Toews put a stop to that kind of thinking.

"We're not separating the guys that were around last year," he said almost sternly. "We're all one team, and we're all going to make mistakes, and we're all going to play good hockey together. We're not talking that way."

It's the wise way to go. Whether it's a winning way, we'll find out soon enough.

"It would have been awesome to win tonight and give the fans a salute at the end of the game," Toews said, "but we'll be doing that often enough and pretty soon, I hope."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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