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Blackhawks Find Title Repeat Road Excruciating

Repeating as a champion is never easy. But who would have thought the Blackhawks would be finding that out before a month of the season had been completed?

When you connect the Blackhawks and San Francisco Giants on the concept of repeating their championships, at first you don't make the connection.

The Hawks were full of stars, a team dominant from season start to Stanley Cup Finish. While blessed with lights-out starting pitching, the Giants were stocked with role players, self-proclaimed misfits and former postseason heroes on their last legs.

Given the composition of their roster, you don't give the Giants much chance of winning the World Series again in 2011. Inevitably, the same confluence of clutch performances, good fortune and good health likely won't be present. Great pitchers get hurt or suddenly become ineffective. Everything had to bounce just right for what old-timers call "The Lads" (after John McGraw's original nickname for his powerful New York Giants). Start with the Padres simply running out of gas in late September after they ran out of fairy-tale performances in which they won with a minimum of hitting.

And that's where the likely sidetracking of the Giants connects with the Hawks. Even with the enforced salary-cap roster purges, the NHL titlists had a handsome remaining core that is the envy of most opponents.

Stars like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, barely old enough to quaff a legal drink, had their best years still way ahead of them. Patrick Sharp was in his prime. Marian Hossa was bound to return to his dominant scoring self after coming into the season healthy. Duncan Keith is the league's best defenseman. And Marty Turco would use his experience to enable the Hawks to not miss a beat in goal with the exiling of Antti Niemi.

Newcomers like Victor Stalberg, Jake Dowell and Jack Skille would inject some fresh blood into the Hawks even while coach Joel Quenneville had to perform the greatest roster alchemy job of his three seasons at the helm.

Forget scenarios and projections on paper. The Hawks don't look anything like their champion selves a month into the season. Off to a hot start, Hossa has been injured for two weeks. Dave Bolland was knocked out the lineup with his own hurts. Toews and Kane haven't been too able in the scoring column. Coach Q is moving players up and down the lines, demoting Hawks down to the fourth unit, then promoting them all the way up to work as Toews' wingmen.

And further aggravating the situation are a series of too-close defeats, the Hawks having the games in hand in the third period and letting them slip away. Even with the hot starts of Hossa and Sharp with Stalberg showing a nose for the goal, Hawks scoring is sputtering. They can't add on or come from behind. Sounds like a North Side baseball team.

The discombobulated nature of the Hawks is not unusual for a champion dealing with the title fallout. Injuries that mess up rotations and chemistry are inevitable. The same momentum and chemistry just doesn't duplicate two years in a row. That's why the NHL has an utter lack of repeat champions in this century. And that's why no Hawks fan should hang crepe if there's no second parade down Michigan Avenue next June.

A thousand little things had to go right for the Hawks in 2009-10. Most crucial was Kane's short-handed, game-tying playoff goal with 14 seconds left against Nashville, followed five minutes later by Hossa's game-winner moments after he freed himself from the penalty box, serving a five-minute major. And with five long months to go 'till the playoffs, the ennui that envelopes the Hawks now may indeed lift.

But if it doesn't, Hawks fans have just gotten more education in the cycle of life in sports. There's no other nice way to say it. Winning it all is a bitch, and then some.