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One Minute Remaining: Challenging schedule ahead for the champions

by Harvey Wittenberg / Chicago Blackhawks

A pair of challenges await the Blackhawks heading into the 2010-11 season: not only will Chicago look to become the first repeat Stanley Cup champion since Detroit accomplished the feat in 1998, but they will also look to become the first Blackhawks team to surpass 100 points for the third-straight season.

The closest Chicago has ever come to 100 points in three consecutive campaigns was in the early 70's; The Hawks, led by Tony Esposito, Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull, registered 99 points in 1969-70, as they became the first NHL team to go from last place in the division the previous season to first in the next. In the next two seasons -- 1970-71 and '71-72 -- the Blackhawks recorded 107 points, then a team record.

Flash-forward more than 30 years: Two seasons ago, the Blackhawks were the youngest NHL squad and surprised a lot of people by compiling 104 points, breaking the century mark for the first time since 1992-93, on their way to a Western Conference Final berth.

While still among the youngest teams in the league this season, the champs set a new franchise record with 112 points, 52 wins, 23 road victories and only fell short of the team record for home wins (30) by one 'W.'

Looking forward to the 2010-11 campaign, it will be as important as ever for the Blackhawks to get off to a quick start; by the time they face off against Dallas on January 5, the Hawks will have played 23 of their first 41 games on United Center ice, including 9 in the month of December. This past season, Chicago had 59 points by the half-way mark, and used that strong start to secure the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

The importance of a fast start will become apparent in the second half of the year; The Hawks will play 10 series of back-to-back contests in the latter half of their slate, and 23 games on the road in their final 41. In February and March, Chicago will play 17 total games on the road with only 9 matchups at the UC.

It will be hard to wait until Chicago's regular-season opener in Colorado on October 7 to begin our next Cup quest, but until then, we can still keep savoring this fabulous year!

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