If Fox's "Cosmos" has taught us anything it's that all the power in the universe comes from the stars

It’s a tale of two cities as far as our playoff teams are concerned.  Sure both the Blackhawks and the Bulls share a common address, color scheme, and organizational pedigree, but there is a significant difference between the United Center’s two tenants and it has more to do with the stars in the sky than their organizational roots in the ground.

Professional sports represents the best of the best in a particular field.  Everyone is good, there’s no two ways about it.  General managers put teams together and coaches are tasked with getting the most from the players they are given.  A good coach can coax a team to exceed the sum of its parts and this approach will win a lot of games in the regular season.  Unfortunately when the lights come on in the playoffs, trying hard and being gritty will only take you so far.  As mentioned above, everyone is good at this level, but when the playoffs arrive the cream rises and the most talented players tend to carry their teams into later rounds of their respective tournaments.  The difference in the results on west Madison St. comes back to the availability of high end talent in either locker room.

The Bulls are the definition of a “sum of the parts” team right now.  While last year the team was built with the understanding of the front office that Derrick Rose would not be returning, this year the squad was constructed with a healthy Rose as the lynch-pin to an aspiring title contender.  Three months later Rose was out once again and Loul Deng was moved to Cleveland as the organization put long term benefits (getting under the luxury tax threshold) ahead of short term victories.  Basically they told Coach Thibs, best of luck with what you’ve got because we’re cashing in on this season and starting to look to the future.  Unfortunately for a team looking to improve their draft stock, they have the single best do-more-with-less coach in the league on the payroll.

The Bulls went on to exceed all expectation this year winning 48 games and finishing 4th in the Eastern Conference.  They did so with effort and grit, defense and teamwork, and all the things we’re told matter the most until the really talented kids show up on the playground.  In this series against Washington aside from Noah – a First Team All Hustle & Grind player – the next best Bull from a talent perspective ranks as the fifth or sixth most talented player in the series.  It’s been painful to watch at times as the Bulls look for someone to step forward and carry their offense for stretches – particularly in crunch time – and there’s no one there to answer the bell.  I think Chicago baseball writer Sahadev Sharma said it best in his tweet after Game 2:

@sahadevsharma: If what I missed by not watching regular season Bulls games is Kirk Hinrich getting the ball in big situations, then I made a wise decision

I couldn’t agree more.

The Bulls don’t have anyone to go to when they need a basket.  Not one member of the team strikes fear into an opponent’s heart when the shot clock is expiring.  They’ve peaked with their current configuration because the talent is just not there to take them to the next level of achievement.  As currently constituted the Bulls are lacking everything that the Blackhawks have in spades.

In many ways the St. Louis Blues are the NHL’s version of the Chicago Bulls.  They’re deep and talented but lack the individual difference maker(s) that can step forward when the need arises that set the good apart from the truly great. Much like the Bulls, the Blues showed up to play every night during the regular season and they won a lot of games for it.  As the playoffs arrived however they found themselves facing a Blackhawks team that was everything they were not (note: 22 year old Vladamir Tarasenko is going to be one of those difference maker that keeps opposing goalies up at night – so technically the Blues have one).

The Blackhawks are a deep and well rounded roster as well, don’t get me wrong.  What separates them from the Blues (and the Bulls for the purposes of this comparison) is the abundance of high end talent on the roster.  From Kane to Toews to Hossa to Keith & Sharp, the Blackhawks have some of the best players from their country’s respective Olympic rosters, while the Blues had an equal number of Olympians (ten), but none of which specifically were the best of the best from their native lands.  While Kane carried the US offense and Toews scored the game-winning goal in the Gold Medal game, the Blues countered with TJ Oshie (starring in a single shoot out and otherwise he was related to the third or fourth line for Team USA) and David Backes who was all but benched during the Canada game back in February.

With the Hawks winning the best of seven series 4-2 on Sunday afternoon the gap between the two rosters was more than apparent for all to see.  While the Blues hoped someone would step forward to score throughout the series, the Blackhawks just knew it was a matter of time until Toews/Sharp/Kane/Hossa took control of any given game.  There’s a difference between relying on a role player like Ben Smith to score in order to compete and adding these goals from unexpected places to an already potent offense.  Between those four players, the Hawks scored eight goals in six games (1.33 goals per game – with Sharp and Hossa admittedly under-performing in the series) meaning that before anyone else chipped in at all, the Blues knew they had to score two goals per game just to stay competitive.  That’s a lot of pressure on a lineup that attributes their success to trying harder than their opponents on a nightly basis.  Everyone’s trying harder when the playoffs arrive.

Looking forward, nothing is necessarily set in stone.  There’s a chance that the Bulls rally versus the Wizards as their team-first mentality carries the day over a younger and more talented Washington roster.  There’s also a chance that much like the first few games of the Blues series the Hawks big four goes cold and another team’s stars outshine those with the Indianhead on their chest for four of seven games.  The odds however are not in the favor of that happening.  The Bulls will inevitably run into a squad who’s talent is just too great to overcome and the Hawks will either meet a team whose high end talent matches their own (Pittsburgh?  Boston?) or they will become the first team in the Stanley Cup era to repeat as champions.  In professional sports it’s all about collecting impact talent and unfortunately only one of our teams has successfully done so heading into the portion of their respective season that really matters.