CHICAGO (Reuters) - In a city that believes deeply in sporting curses, the Chicago Blackhawks have decided not to take any chances in their bid to put an end to the National Hockey League’s longest championship drought.
After sweeping past the San Jose Sharks 4-0 in the Western Conference final, Chicago will now open the Stanley Cup final on Saturday at its ‘Madhouse on Madison’ against the upstart Philadelphia Flyers.
But while the Blackhawks are the toast of the Windy City and favored by many to win the finals, nobody is planning a victory parade through downtown Chicago just yet.
It has been 49 years since the Blackhawks last hoisted the Stanley Cup, and while that may seem an eternity to some it is a walk in the park compared to Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs, who have not celebrated a World Series title since 1908 and are called the “Lovable Losers.”
The ‘Curse of the Billy Goat’ has haunted the Cubs for 65 years, the team doomed to failure by an enduring hex placed on the club in 1945 by the owner of Billy Goat Tavern after his pet was not allowed in Wrigley Field for a World Series game.
While there are no such famous curses hanging over the Blackhawks, the team has lived under a dark cloud since it last won the Cup in 1961. They lost their next five trips to the finals, most recently in 1992.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews opted not to tempt fate and gave into a long-standing NHL superstition when he refused to touch the Clarence Campbell Bowl that is presented to the Western Conference champion.
Hockey lore says no good comes from lifting the conference trophy, though the Pittsburgh Penguins proved that theory wrong last year as they held the conference trophy and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
“Some teams are all on board with grabbing the trophy and saying, you know, the heck with it,” Toews told reporters. “But to me it’s not being superstitious. It’s just saying that we’re here for bigger and better things.”
If there are magical forces at work in these playoffs it could be found in the Eastern Conference, where Philadelphia defied the odds to advance to the finals despite entering the post-season as the second-lowest seed in the conference.
In contrast, the Blackhawks are exactly where many expected them to be after recording the third-best record in the regular season and then knocking off the Nashville Predators, Vancouver Canucks and Sharks in the playoffs.
The young Hawks are led by 22-year-old Toews, who is on a 13-game scoring streak, leads the playoffs with 26 points and is garnering plenty of Conn Smythe trophy talk as MVP of the post season.
His sidekick Patrick Kane is third in playoff scoring while Dustin Byfuglien has been a goaltender’s worst nightmare with eight goals, including three game winners against the Sharks.
The Chicago defense is anchored by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — two of Toews’s gold-medal winning Canadian team mates from the Vancouver Olympics — while Finnish rookie Antti Niemi has also provided sharp play in net.
“Sky’s the limit,” said Toews. “This is a great opportunity, a great chance.
“We’re going to go right after it. No reason we can’t go out there and get another four wins.”
Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto; editing by Frank Pingue