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Ian Cole weighs in on what went wrong for Blackhawks and chances of a Penguins three-peat

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AP

Ian Cole weighs in on what went wrong for Blackhawks and chances of a Penguins three-peat

Ian Cole is well familiar with the Blackhawks and the success they have experienced over the last decade.

He's seen in first-hand after spending his first four and a half NHL seasons in the same division as them with the St. Louis Blues before getting traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the deadline of the 2014-15 season.

Like the rest of the hockey community, Cole was shocked to see the Blackhawks get ousted in four games during their first-round series against the eventual Western Conference champion Nashville Predators. But he also understands how taxing it is to play deep into the playoffs on an annual basis, especially when three of them have ended with parades in late June.

"It was definitely surprising because of the caliber players that they have and how good they've been for so long," Cole said at the Chicago Hockey Charity Classic in Geneva last weekend. "But you certainly can sympathize with the fatigue that builds up after playing that many games for that long. How many? Six, seven, eight years now where they've played a lot of hockey.

"Then again, you saw the run that Nashville went on, how well they were playing and they were a buzzsaw for sure. They went through a lot of teams that people didn't give them a chance on. You come up against a hot team, maybe you don't play your best, even for a team like the Hawks you can lose."

While there are a combination of reasons for the Blackhawks' quick exit, one of them may also be attributed to the big gap between the core veterans that have won multiple Stanley Cups and the first- and second-year players with little-to-no playoff experience. 

There was no in between. It wasn't noticeable in the regular season, but it certainly showed in the postseason when the stars weren't at their best.

Coming together and being associated as one unit will be key for the Blackhawks returning to glory, and Patrick Kane training with Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza in Chicago this summer is a great step towards wanting to make that happen.

"Experience helps for sure," Cole said. "I don't think that it's something you want to overlook, but at the same time the guys that were there that didn't have that playoff experience certainly contributed during the regular season, were very, very good hockey players and are very good hockey players, and will continue to be very good hockey players in the future.

"I think their future is really bright. Last year was a hiccup for a really, really good hockey team. I think next year they'll be right back at it. I can't see any other outcome in that."

The Penguins went through a similar situation when they reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2008, won it in 2009, and followed that up by winning only one playoff series over the next three seasons. 

A big part of the culture change is when Mike Sullivan took over as head coach in December of 2015. He helped lead the Penguins to two Stanley Cups in an 18-month span, and became just the second head coach in league history to win back-to-back titles in his first two seasons with a franchise.

Rewind a few months back though, and it was actually his third straight year of getting a ring. Sullivan served as a player development coach for the Blackhawks during the 2014-15 Stanley Cup campaign, where he studied individual players and the team as a whole.

Being a behind-the-scenes coach for a championship-winning organization was important for Sullivan's coaching career, and he hasn't been shy about carrying over many of the lessons he learned in his brief stint with the Blackhawks to Pittsburgh.

"He certainly speaks to our defensemen about Duncan Keith and what he does, and Brent Seabrook and what he does, and seeing them close up and how they perform and play in certain situations," Cole said of Sullivan. "He can certainly relate those to us. And it's not anything that you can't find out watching video. There are no secrets, but when you do have that personal experience, you can certainly draw from that and he does.

"A team that has had as much success as the Blackhawks, I think you'd be foolish to not try to learn from what they've done to be successful. And I'm sure teams will try to learn from what we did when we were successful."

Finally getting back on the ice last week to prepare for the upcoming season after another shortened summer, Cole and the Penguins have turned the page and are looking to do something no team has accomplished since the early 1980s: a three-peat.

"It's actually funny, because as soon as we won the second one, people were saying, 'Let's go for three!'" Cole said. "There are some short summers and there's a lot of built up fatigue. You can definitely feel it from the second year of the playoffs as opposed to the first year. There's a lot more fatigue and you certainly hit that wall a lot quicker. ... But it's just one of those things that you have to battle through.

"You're paid to win hockey games and you ultimately want to win the Stanley Cup every single year. Any goal short of that is a mistake. So that's going to be our goal."

But is it actually realistic?

"People said that back-to-back wasn't necessarily realistic based on the history of it," Cole said. "We would love to make it happen. If there's a team that could do it, I think it's us. We all want to make it happen, we all want to go down in the history books that can win three, heck four, go match the Islanders. Can it happen? Who knows. But we're certainly going to try."

WATCH: Defining moment of Marian Hossa's Blackhawks career

WATCH: Defining moment of Marian Hossa's Blackhawks career

When news broke that Marian Hossa would miss the 2017-18 season with a progressive skin disorder, it shocked both Blackhawks fans and the entire hockey community.

His future after that is unclear, and if it's the end of what is surely to be a Hall of Fame career, Hossa will go down as one of the best two-way players in league history and a class act both on and off the ice.

He's also been a crucial part of the Blackhawks winning three Stanley Cups, and there's a case to be made they don't win the first one in 2010 without him. 

In a playoff-defining moment with Chicago, Hossa capped a two-goal comeback win in Game 5 against the Nashville Predators of the first round of the playoffs by racing out of the box after serving a four-minute penalty and scoring in overtime to give the Blackhawks a 5-4 win and 3-2 series lead. The Blackhawks went on to win Game 6, and eventually snapped a 49-year championship drought.

Relive it in the video above.

In wake of first-round playoff sweep, Patrick Kane talks about the Blackhawks' 'reality check'

In wake of first-round playoff sweep, Patrick Kane talks about the Blackhawks' 'reality check'

It’s been just over a month since the Blackhawks were eliminated from the playoffs in swift fashion. And as Patrick Kane told WGN Radio on Tuesday morning, the bitter taste hasn’t gone away.

“I think a lot of us didn’t figure we’d be in the situation we’re in right now,” Kane told Steve Cochran and Dave Eanet on Tuesday. “All of us can work this offseason to get better. It’s a long time to wait to get back to that opportunity to play in the playoffs again, so we’ll have a sour taste in our mouth for a while.”

The Nashville Predators, who made quick work of the Blackhawks in the first round, eliminated the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night to earn the first Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history. Kane told WGN he’s been watching the playoffs and said Nashville “has a pretty good system going.”

“They come at you, they play aggressive. I don’t think any of us would be a big fan of the way they defend in the neutral zone, just sitting back and playing that 1-3-1. But at the same time they come at you,” said Kane, who added that the Blackhawks “weren’t even close in that (first-round) series.”

“Maybe we had a chance in Game 3 when we were up 2-0, but it was a clean sweep and that’s probably how it should’ve been,” he said. “So now it’s time to regroup.”

When the Blackhawks had their wrap-up media session on April 22, general manager Stan Bowman was asked if some players, having won three Stanley Cups since 2010, had lost some of the hunger. Bowman didn’t buy that and neither did Kane.

“Four sounds a lot better than three, right?” he said. “It’s a long time away and a lot of work, but sometimes you go through those situations and you realize you won three Cups and it’s almost like you’re going to be there again. That’s where the reality check is for us now, realizing how hard it is to get back in that situation, how hard it is to win a Cup or go deep in this league. There’s a lot of work to be done.”