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Article updated: 4/18/2011 5:33 AM

Last summer to blame for Hawks' woes

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This is no way to defend a Stanley Cup championship.

After an uninspiring regular season, the Blackhawks are a defeat away from being swept out of the first round of this year's playoffs.

Vancouver took a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series with a 3-2 victory Sunday night in the United Center.

"We're in an awful spot right now," Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville understated.

Everyone can express a theory or reason or excuse for why the Hawks never seemed this season to look like threats to defend their title.

Most prominent among them will be that the salary cap stripped the Hawks of essential pieces and general manager Stan Bowman wasn't up to the challenge of replacing them.

Then there were key injuries that kept the Hawks from being at full strength very often and rendered them out of sync when they were.

Heck, the Hawks might even want to blame their current predicament on a violent hit to defenseman Brent Seabrook, which they thought should have drawn a five-minute major penalty instead of a two-minute minor.

"We might have scored 4 goals (during a major)," Quenneville said.

Anyway, I'm not a hockey maven, but I do have a theory -- or is it a reason or an excuse? -- for the Hawks' failing defense of the Cup:

The season was lost between the final game of last year's playoffs and the first game of this regular season.

Quenneville has lamented that the Hawks left too many points on the ice during the first half of the regular season. If so, that's why they barely made the playoffs and why they had to start the playoffs against the team with the NHL's best record.

When any team in any sport underachieves early it usually means players were delinquent in their duties during the off-season.

The Hawks' core players had a really enjoyable few months from June to September of 2010. They played around with the Stanley Cup, accompanied it to myriad sporting events and overall enjoyed a champion's celebrity.

But did that cut into their conditioning? Did it distract them from their commitment? Did it make them just complacent enough to forget what made them Stanley Cup winners?

The appetite for winning doesn't start in training camp. It starts long before, and it's as much mental as physical.

Nobody can be sure that the Hawks didn't do enough last summer to prevail this spring, but it did look that way from the start of the season to this imminent end.

Seasons aren't won or lost in-season. They aren't won or lost in the postseason. They aren't won or lost in any given postseason game. They aren't won or lost due to an officiating decision.

The Hawks' didn't lose this season in the first period of Game 3, when they took a 1-0 lead that could and should have been 2-0 or even 3-0.

Vancouver committed 4 penalties to none for the Hawks. The Hawks compiled 16 shots on goal to 10 for the Canucks, but in the end the advantages didn't provide enough of a cushion.

Assuming the Hawks will lose one of the next four games to the Canucks, their defense of the Cup still won't have been lost on the night it happens.

It will have been lost last summer when nobody was watching and bodies are shaped and minds were supposed to be committed to repeating as champions.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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