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Blackhawks determined to end one Chicago title drought

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago Blackhawks supporters may not have endured as much heartbreak as Cubs fans but after 49 years without a Stanley Cup, Windy City hockey addicts are eager to toast an end to the NHL's longest title drought.

After years of decline and neglect, the Blackhawks are once again the pride of Chicago, charging to a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference final against the San Jose Sharks.

Games Three and Four of the best-of-seven series will be played at the United Center in Chicago on Friday and Sunday.

The Blackhawks last hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1961 and while that may seem an eternity to some it is a walk in the park compared to Chicago's "Lovable Losers", the Cubs, who have not celebrated a World Series title since 1908.

"It's exciting, I think the town is really behind our team," Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane told reporters.

"You could see that over the last couple years as far as how many sell-outs we've had, the support you get, and how recognizable you are around town."

It was not long ago that Blackhawks players could walk the streets without attracting a second glance.

Once one of the NHL's most proudest clubs with rosters that included some of the NHL's greatest names, including Hall of Famers Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, the Blackhawks became one of the league's most troubled franchises under owner Bill Wirtz, known as "Dollar Bill" for his frugal operation of the team.

But the franchise has enjoyed a renaissance under Rocky Wirtz, who assumed control of the club following his father's death in 2007.

Wirtz hired Chicago Cubs executive John McDonough to run the franchise, and the two men remodelled the team around dynamic young talents like Kane and Jonathan Toews.

The Blackhawks buzz has been building since last season when Chicago lost in the conference finals to the Detroit Red Wings. Now, the team is expected to take the next step.

"There's been a lot of pressure on us all year," said Toews, the leading scorer in the leads the playoffs with 23 points (7 goals, 16 assists). "Everyone talks about our team and how special we are, what we're capable of doing.

"We understand that. We know there's pressure.

"But we're focused on the right things, that's what we need to do as a team to be successful."

Kane was thrilled to be returning to Chicago although home ice has not been an advantage this post-season. The Blackhawks are 3-3 at the United Center and a sparkling 7-1 on the road.

"You can really feel it now," said Kane. "We haven't accomplished anything yet obviously but we put ourselves in good shape with two big wins.

"Right now we're feeling pretty good but you can't get too high because San Jose is a great team, you never know what can happen.

"It really gets exciting this time of year knowing you have a couple more wins to get to the Cup final and six more wins to actually win the golden prize."

(Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto; editing by Steve Ginsburg)