Hawks are young, but now experienced, too

Upon qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2009, the Chicago Blackhawks brought an end to a miserable 11-year stretch.

Ten seasons of hockey that produced one playoff series. The series was a five-gamer that featured three shutout losses in the final four games to -- ironically enough -- Joel Quenneville's St. Louis Blues.

Heck, the lockout year may have been welcomed more in the Windy City than anywhere else.

The Hawks finished 2003-04 with 59 points, marking their worst point total in a full season since the 55 they posted in 1957-58.

Back then, 1958-59 marked the end of 12 terrible years. A dozen seasons from 1946-47 through 1956-57 that produced just one round of playoff hockey, a seven-game series loss to the eventual champions from Montreal in 1953.

But within three years of 1958, and in a six-team league, Chicago was on top of the hockey world for the third and most recent time.

Despite 14 division titles, and five more trips to the Final since winning in 1961, the Hawks remained stuck on three Cups entering 2010.

Until now?

Now happens to be just five seasons since that lowly 59-point campaign. Three of those were non-playoff years that helped steer them toward high-end draft picks Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and the results go without saying.

But experience counts for an awful lot as well.

You've probably heard it often over the past few hours that last season's Conference Final loss to the then-defending champion Red Wings was a huge step in the maturation process of this group.

How could it not have been? But don't overlook the fact that it wasn't just the Conference Final where the Wings had had their way with these Central Division foes.

If you can recall the Winter Classic at Wrigley, and a 6-4 win for the visitors from Detroit, it was killing Patrick Sharp to sit and address the media after another loss to the Wings, which happened to be the second in three days and fourth straight on the season.

It's not always easy to remember things on New Year's Day, but I do remember the look on Sharp's face, and the tone in his voice.

The ensuing playoff clash was definitely closer than five games would indicate, considering that three of the four Chicago losses came in overtime.

And with that the table was set for the next step.

This season's series with Detroit was split three wins apiece.

Unfortunately they didn't meet again in the Conference Final.

And if they do meet in the conference final (or earlier) next year, who's to say the 'Hawks will be the heavy favorites?

But for now, it's the Blackhawks that have played more post-season series than any other team over the last two springs, and you can bet someone behind the scenes is secretly wishing for -- if all goes well in the next two weeks -- a visit by the Red Wings to the United Center in early October, just to show off a new banner.