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Starkey: Blackhawks have what Penguins want

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 10:20 p.m.

As anyone from the early 1990s Penguins will tell you, dynasties are hard to come by. Hold your thumb and index finger an inch apart. Those Penguins missed one by that much.

When the NHL instituted a salary cap in 2005, the “dynasty” concept figured to go the way of the open-ice hip check. But that was before the latest generation of Penguins commandeered the Stanley Cup with a 21-year-old captain, a 22-year-old Conn Smythe winner and a 24-year-old hero goaltender.

If any team could forge an early cap-era dynasty, these Penguins were it. Surely they would win at least a second Cup before the millennium reached its mid-teens.

They still might. But another team has moved to the front of the pack. The Chicago Blackhawks, who visit Consol Energy Center on Sunday night, have doubled the Penguins in Cups and will qualify as a dynasty if they survive a brutal Western Conference and win it all again this season.

Granted, that “if” is as big as Zdeno Chara. No team has won consecutive Cups since the Detroit Red Wings 16 years ago. But if Chicago pulls it off, it will have won back-to-back championships and three in five years.

That's a dynasty in any era, any sport.

And even if the 'Hawks have been struggling lately and arrive without injured star Patrick Kane, their visit has special meaning. The same was true of the March 1 game these teams played at Soldier Field.

Before that one, Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik explained that playing Chicago is a little different.

“You'd like to have the success they've had,” Orpik said. “That's something we're working toward.”

The Penguins fell off the pace on account of a series of playoff implosions and an injury curse that apparently has no expiration date. The most troublesome current case is that of defenseman Kris Letang, who appears to be a long shot to return from his stroke anytime soon based on a conversation we had a few days ago.

Letang said he has good days and bad days. I wondered what the bad ones are like.

“I can be really dizzy,” he said. “Sometimes I have trouble walking, like, in a straight line. … I have some vision things. Lights would bother me, stuff like that.”

With or without Letang, the top-heavy Penguins must rely on their stars, who failed them in an Eastern Conference final sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins last spring. The Penguins scored two goals in the series. The Blackhawks scored four in Game 1 of the Cup final and took out the Bruins in six games.

It'll be fascinating to monitor the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin Penguins and the Kane-Jonathan Toews Blackhawks as those players inch toward 30. The Blackhawks soon must cross a cap threshold, one the Penguins already navigated, because Toews and Kane own contracts that expire after next season.

In the meantime, how great would it be to see these teams in a Cup final? They don't cross paths often but have been linked in some intriguing storylines …

• The Penguins and Blackhawks had the best percentage chance to win the '04 draft lottery for Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals won the lottery — but the Penguins lucked into the second pick, which became Malkin. Chicago picked third and took a man named Cam Barker.

• The Penguins passed on Toews with the second pick in 2006, preferring Jordan Staal. It fit the Penguins' model at the time. The Hawks, however, wound up with the better player and one of the game's great leaders.

• Marian Hossa was supposed to be Crosby's long-term winger. But, like Staal, he rejected a rich Penguins offer. His unique brand of two-way hockey is especially valuable at playoff time.

• Pittsburgh's very own Brandon Saad might have been the winger Crosby grew old with. He played through a groin injury that dropped his draft stock in 2011, and the Penguins, with the 23rd pick, passed on him. They opted for defenseman Joe Morrow, who horrifyingly morphed into an aging winger named Brenden Morrow (via last year's trade).

Of course, the Blackhawks also passed on Saad three times before taking him with the 43rd pick. They then nabbed Andrew Shaw in the fifth round, giving them two impact forwards from outside the first round of the same draft.

That is highly unusual.

So are dynasties.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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