Pressing Question: Can the Blackhawks avoid the Stanley Cup hangover?

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One of PHT’s 10 pressing questions in advance of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…

The Chicago Blackhawks are the hunted in these Stanley Cup playoffs, which is really no different from their position throughout the regular season.

That’s what happens when you win the silver chalice, hockey’s Holy Grail, the previous season. Not only did they win it all, they enjoyed a record-breaking regular season, too. But that was last year.

Now, the question becomes: Can the Blackhawks avoid the Stanley Cup hangover as they look to defend their championship?

It should help Chicago’s cause that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are expected to be ready for when the post-season begins, as the Blackhawks open up against the St. Louis Blues in the first round. This best-of-seven series begins Thursday in St. Louis.

‘‘They’re going to play the way they play, and we’ll play the way we play,’’ said forward Ben Smith, as per the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘In a best-of-seven series, we’ll see who comes out on top.’’

True enough.

But while discussing the Blackhawks and that whole element of the championship hangover, it’s worth pointing out Chicago’s struggles following their last Stanley Cup victory, which came back in 2010.

That was also the year of the Vancouver Olympics, which surely put added burden on the likes of Toews and Kane, as well as Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith.

The next year, the Blackhawks barely made it into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference and were eventually beaten in the opening series in seven games by the Vancouver Canucks.

This season looked to be on a similar path to the 2013 lockout-shortened campaign. The Blackhawks were on top of the Central Division with 84 points and a 35-11-14 record heading into the Sochi Olympic break. But since then, they’ve been hardly above average or of championship caliber.

Their record since the NHL schedule resumed: 11-10-1. Some of that had to do with injuries to key players.

And now, they have a date with the Blues, losers of six straight but a team that challenged for the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s best regular season team right up until the final days of the schedule.

“That’s what everybody wants to talk about, but we’re not going to think that we have an easier team to play against,” Toews told ESPN Chicago.

“That’s definitely not going to be the case. They’re a team that loves to play physical against us, and we’ve got to expect that. There’s no reason why we can’t return that as well. We’ll be ready to bring that type of effort.

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