Forward thinking

CHICAGO -- Three years ago, Jonathan Toews and his buddies didn't know what they didn't know and that made all the difference.

"In 2010, we didn't really know how good our team was," Toews said Tuesday. "We just went out there, we won games and next thing we know we're winning the Stanley Cup. We didn't think twice about it. The last couple years you go through tough times and you start asking yourself questions. 'Why didn't I have the same success?' You can spin your wheels thinking about it."

To the nine remaining Chicago Blackhawks who played in this round three years ago, 2010 might as well be a four-letter word right now as they prepare to play the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals starting Wednesday night at the United Center.

"I don't want to keep going back to 2010," forward Patrick Sharp said as the preface to one response on media day.

Who could blame him? They've only been reminded about that magical season about five times a week for the past three years. Ask the 2005 White Sox how those comparisons aged over the years. (Don't ask the 1985 Bears unless you have a comfortable seat and a four-figure appearance fee.)

Being reminded of how awesome you were is certainly not a bad problem to have, but the only valuable thing about visiting memory lane is it reminds you of what you once had. Memories can be used as fuel.

"From the time we spent with it, those summer days with the Cup, the Cup kind of felt like it was yours," Patrick Kane said.

While the Cup is still recovering from its time with Kane, its former owners want it back in the worst way. With new teams winning the Cup every year, this group wants to cement its legacy as a team for its generation.

"As a team, as an organization, we want to prove we're that team that means business, being in the hunt for it every single year," Toews said.

Three summers ago, the Blackhawks were the toast of Chicago as the Cup logged more bar hours than Norm Peterson. But the past two offseasons have done nothing but remind the remaining core members of that team what it feels like to win and what it feels like to lose. The difference is palpable.

"Once you win it once, you feel like you're that team that's good enough to go do it again," Toews said. "Here we are, we've battled back, had maybe two tougher years where we've lost in the first round. You go home pretty disappointed. It's a long offseason to sit there and think about what you can change and how you can get back to where you want to be. Here we are. We have a great opportunity to get back to where we were in 2010."

Boston will provide a much tougher test than any team the Blackhawks have faced this season, and maybe in 2010. From Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask to Ice Giant Zdeno Chara to Patrice Bergeron and Andrew Marchand and ... well, it's a very good team. After all, the Bruins just swept the Pittsburgh Penguins, giving up two goals in four games.

The Blackhawks want this challenge.

"It's the Stanley Cup finals, why not play the best team in the league and have that challenge?" Kane said.

And as well as the Blackhawks played against Los Angeles after facing their playoff mortality against Detroit, maybe the Bruins should be worried.

Those Blackhawks veterans certainly have an appreciation of what it means to return, and the new guys should just go with the flow.

"When you do look at the league, you do meet a few guys who haven't even made it to the playoffs or the finals," Dave Bolland said. "For us to do it in a four-year span, it's a great accomplishment. I think you're lucky to get back to this position."

For some out-of-towners, the big-name Blackhawks like Toews and Kane have remained frozen in time from their first Cup run. Same skills, same personalities, same bad facial hair. It's still a young team.

But several Blackhawks have already said this team is better. Goalie Corey Crawford is certainly more trusted than Antti Niemi, and this team is deep enough that coach Joel Quenneville can mix up the lines before the first game of the finals and no one bats an eye.

Even with four crucial wins remaining to make the 2013 > 2010 argument hold true, it seems plausible considering these Blackhawks won the Presidents' Trophy and began the season with a 24-game points streak.

"A lot of us that were here in 2010 would say we're better players now," Kane said. "I think I myself, I'm a well-rounded player. I've got a lot better defensively and without the puck as time has went on. I feel like I'm more focused on hockey now."

There are plenty of new faces who will make a difference in this series, from 20-year-old rookie Brandon Saad to 28-year-old Crawford, who played one game for the Blackhawks in that famous season.

But the team will rely on the experience of those nine returnees.

"Certainly the core group has matured to a nice level over the last four years," Quenneville said. "I think their experience is going to be beneficial for the guys who haven't been there. We've got some young guys this year who made a big impact on our team, have grown throughout the year and in the playoffs as well. It's nice having those guys to lean on at this time."

Once the puck drops, history is wiped clean. But the Blackhawks hope the lesson they carry with them from 2010 is simply how much fun it is to win.