The similarities between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks are growing. Both teams won a Stanley Cup with a young core of stars that set things up for a bright future. Both teams have a captain and leader, in Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, who had to overcome concussion issues to get ready for the playoffs this season. Both teams looked like they were coming together just at the right time to return to the high internal and external expectations that surround them.
And now, both teams are done. Out in the first round for the second consecutive year. When the Penguins were eliminated, the talk was of wasted opportunity.
"We had a lot of confidence in this group," Penguins forward Jordan Staal told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "To come up short is disappointing."
The Blackhawks felt the same way. Even as Mike Smith turned away every shot in the Coyotes' 4-0 clincher Monday night in Chicago, the Blackhawks believed that if they kept coming, kept digging, they'd find a way to break through.
"Even when we went down 2-0, 3-0, there was never a doubt in our mind we were going to find a way to come back," Toews said after the game. "It's frustrating when you play that well and you put that much pressure on a team and they don't break, you don't find a hole. I don't know what else we were supposed to do."
The Blackhawks are at a loss right now, and it's turning out to be a tough postseason for offensive-minded puck-possession teams in the West. The Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks are gone. The favorites are out. In their place are the teams built around defense and goaltending like the Nashville Predators, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes and St. Louis Blues.
There's been a culture change in the West.
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