Hawks at least have chance at title
Would you purchase lottery tickets you already knew would lose?
Of course you wouldn't.
Those tickets are the Chicago Bulls. They're assured to not win an NBA championship this season.
The Chicago Blackhawks, on the other hand, are the lottery tickets which provide a chance of winning it all. The Blackhawks aren't nearly as safe of a bet as they were a season ago to be drinking out of the Stanley Cup come June, but they still present that possibility.
One of the greatest differences between the NBA and NHL is how their playoffs unfold. The NBA's best teams nearly always win in the end. A No. 1 seed has won the title 48 times, No. 2 seeds 10 times and No. 3 seeds seven times. Only twice have seeds worse than No. 3 won a championship.
The NBA isn't a league which allows good teams to overcome great teams in seven-game series over four rounds. The Bulls are good, not great. A fan base which celebrated six titles in the 1990s shouldn't have to be reminded of this NBA truism.
In the NHL, it's not as clear cut. Since 1967, No. 1 seeds have won the Stanley Cup 23 times, No. 2 seeds 11 times, No. 3 seeds six times and No. 4-8 seeds five times.
Seeding in the NHL was altered to become division oriented this season, but under the old conference standings format, the Blackhawks would fall somewhere between the Nos. 3-6 seeds when the regular season ends next week. That indicates the Blackhawks can have some hope of hosting another Grant Park party.
But there's more to it than simply relying on the past to predict the Blackhawks' future. The Blackhawks have played like a team capable of winning another Stanley Cup at times this season. At their best, they have been as good as anyone in the NHL. You don't have to look any further than two recent wins over the St. Louis Blues to see the Blackhawks' potential.
The Blackhawks are hopeful Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, though injured, are better off getting rest now and will be refreshed for the playoffs. Those two plus Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp are as dangerous as any team's top four forwards. Corey Crawford ditched his inconsistencies in January and is playing well enough to again be a difference-maker in the playoffs.
Players such as Bryan Bickell and Jeremy Morin are coming around at the right time to supply essential depth for a run. All six starting defensemen were also part of last year's championship-winning team, and the experience factor is something nearly the entire lineup has going for it.
The Blackhawks obviously need some things to fall in place to win another Cup. But unlike the Bulls, the Blackhawks can truly believe anything's possible, just as the Illinois Lottery says.
Scott Powers covers the Blackhawks for ESPNChicago.com.
Third seed key to deep Bulls run
Three months ago, the Chicago Bulls lost team leader Luol Deng to a salary-dumping trade to Cleveland. They were 14-18 at the time. That same day, the Chicago Blackhawks lost in a shootout to San Jose to fall to 29-7-9.
Since then, fortunes haven't quite flipped, but it's clear the Bulls are peaking while the Blackhawks ... who knows where they're headed?
While the Blackhawks are on a modest, yet helpful three-game winning streak, they are without Patrick Kane (knee) and Jonathan Toews (upper body) until the playoffs, and despite rosy predictions, no one's quite sure how they'll play. But hockey isn't just about star play. The Hawks are an intriguing team, because they have the potential to repeat as Stanley Cup champs, and they could just as easily lose in the first round to Colorado.
The Bulls are headed toward a similarly tough first-round draw with Brooklyn. But while playoff hockey is most capricious, playoff basketball is more structured. The better team usually wins.
The Bulls can control their own destiny by simply playing up to their own high standards. They will be prepared -- Bulls players in the past have compared their first-round scouting reports to phonebooks -- by Tom Thibodeau and more importantly, players like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and D.J. Augustin can affect every game. It's just not like that in hockey.
If the Bulls can somehow sneak into the third playoff spot ahead of Toronto, they could win 10 playoff games. The Indiana Pacers are imploding, as I saw for myself a couple of weeks ago at the United Center, and could easily be beaten in a seven-game series. And the Bulls could take two games off Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.
If they stay in their current fourth spot and have to play Miami in the second round, six games is probably the Bulls' ceiling.
As of now, neither fan base has overwhelming championship aspirations -- Blackhawks fans are skeptical, Bulls fans gave up the ghost when Derrick Rose went down -- but these teams do. It'll be fascinating to see how each team deals with its own expectations.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.