The Chicago Blackhawks have passed the first checkpoint on what they hope will be the road to back-to-back Stanley Cups, though the journey this season may be a bit more difficult.
The defending champs were assured of a sixth consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Phoenix Coyotes lost 3-1 to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. It came after the Blackhawks dropped back-to-back road games against the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators.
The road to a second championship won't be as smooth. Last season's team had the home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs; this one may not have it in any series. The Blackhawks are not likely to catch the St. Louis Blues for the Central Division title, and they're in a battle with the Colorado Avalanche, their all-but-certain first-round opponent, to see who finishes second and gets the home-ice edge.
Regardless of where they finish, the Blackhawks will be a serious contender to win the Cup for the third time in five seasons. Here are five reasons why: