If Blackhawks fans ever had any doubt about where the Stanley Cup would wind up this year, they should have stuck with the oddsmakers in Vegas who labled Chicago the winner back in September. But like a Hitchcock movie, every game in the final series with Tampa Bay was tense, with twists and turns on every shot off the posts.
To win the coveted Lord Stanley, you need your top players to be their best. However, to capture 16 games over a two month stretch, your supporting cast has to step forward. Going back to the opening round against Nashville, it took the goalscoring of Blackhawks defensemen Duncan Keith (twice) and Brent Seabrook, plus the rookie goaltending of Scott Darling until Corey Crawford took over in Game 6, to eliminate the Predators.
The second round saw the Blackhawks take on the hottest Western Conference team, the Minnesota Wild, who eliminated the division champion St. Louis Blues. The series pattern was set in the opener when rookie Teuvo Teravainen scored his first playoff goal at the 19th minute of the second period for the game winner in a 4-3 decision on the way to a four-game sweep. Corey Crawford made at least 30 saves in every game.
The Western Conference Final had the underdog Blackhawks take on the number-one seeded Anaheim Ducks. This is where the supporting cast stepped up to save the day in overtime, twice. After losing the opener 4-1, fourth-line center Marcus Kruger tallied in the 16th minute of the third overtime -- a franchise record -- to tie the series. Crawford made a team playoff-record 60 saves. And in Game 4, after being scratched the previous game, Antoine Vermette scored the game-winner in the second OT to tie the series. After losing the fifth game, Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa registered winning goals in Games 6 and 7, respectively, to take the series.
For the Final, the spotlight swung back to the supporting cast, with Vermette getting the winner with less than 5 minutes remaining in the opener. After dropping the next two, Brandon Saad stepped up with deciding marker 6 minutes into the third period of Game 4 to tie the series. Vermette picked up his third playoff game-winner 2 minutes into the final period of Game 5 for the 3-2 series edge. Keith, Kane and Corey Crawford took over in Game 6 to end the suspense of another Stanley Cup for Chicago fans.
Even Hitchcock couldn't have written a better ending!
While players from 26 other NHL teams look on with envy at the final four while swinging golf sticks instead of hockey sticks, the tense playoff battles continue. Every hockey coach knows their best players have to be at their best in order to win. In the playoffs, goalies have to raise their level even higher because the stakes mean a lot more. But the true key to success in the postseason could rest with the players who toil on the third and fourth lines and aren't always counted on for scoring.
With the Blackhawks, that role currently falls on the shoulders of Antoine Vermette, Patrick Sharp and rookie Teuvo Teravainen, along with Marcus Kruger, Andrew Desjardins and the feisty Andrew Shaw. Their task is to make sure they keep their opponents off the scoresheet, plus typically seeing a lot of penalty kill time. Let's hope these two lines keep showing they can make the difference in these playoffs.
The Blackhawks' record for longest playoff game is now 116 minutes, capped off by Kruger's overtime winner in Game 2 in Anaheim. That game, along with Vermette' double-overtime decider in Game 4, recalls past successful extra playoff sessions.
In this year's First Round against Nashville, Duncan Keith had a double-overtime winner in the come-from-behind opener, and Brent Seabrook tallied in the first minute of the third overtime in Game 4. Andrew Shaw had a triple-overtime winner at the UC in the opener of the Stanley Cup Final against Boston on the way to the Cup in 2013.
The first Chicago Stanley Cup was won in the second extra period on April 10, 1934, when Harold "Mush" March scored for a 1-0 victory behind the goaltending of Charlie Gardiner, who tragically died two months later from a brain tumor. Before this year's Chicago overtime playoff marks, the old record was set back in 1931 in Montreal, when Cy Wentworth lit the red light nearly 54 minutes into the third overtime period.
Finally, few can forget Patrick Kane's winner four minutes into overtime in Philadelphia on June 9, 2010, for Chicago's first Stanley Cup in 49 years!
Dollard St. Laurent, one of the solid Blackhawks defensemen from the 1961 Stanley Cup championship-winning team, passed away on April 6, 2015, at the age of 85.
"Dolly," as he was called by his teamates, played on the 1961 championship after being a part of four Montreal Cup-winning squads. Wearing No. 19, Dolly played from 1958-62 in Chicago after General Manager Tommy Ivan got him in a trade with Montreal. He appeared in five All-Star Games, the last two in a Blackhawks uniform.
Considered a steady stay-at-home defender at the blue line, Dolly played alongside and in front of Hall of Famers Glenn Hall, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Pierre Pilote. His Blackhawks career included 269 regular-season games and 33 playoff contests.
|The Blackhawks honored the memory of Clint Reif, an integral part of the dressing room, after his passing on Dec. 21.|
While Blackhawks stars such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith tend to draw the attention and cheers from the fans, the hard work and effort put in behind the scenes came into focus recently, as the tragic passing of Assistant Equipment Manager Clint Reif deeply impacted the Blackhawks family.
Game in and game out, behind the bench and in the locker room, these staff members don't receive the same amount of praise—except from the players and coaching staff who appreciate their work.
When the Blackhawks begin their 88th NHL season in Dallas on Oct. 9, is there any indicator of a successful season? Naturally, there is a lot that can happen between the opener and the schedule's finale in Colorado on April 11.
In 87 seasons, the Hawks have won 66 season openers and qualified for the playoffs 64 times. There's no doubt that the 2013 Stanley Cup champions set the tone, setting a league mark by tallying points in their first 24 games (21-0-3). That campaign began with the Hawks ruining the banner-raising ceremonies for the 2012 champion Kings in Los Angeles. Last year, the Hawks opened at home with a 6-4 victory over Washington.
Recalling the 2013 championship, the playoff comeback against Detroit on Brent Seabrook's overtime goal in Game 7 was only overshadowed by the infamous "17 seconds" triumph in Game 6 in Boston in the last 77 seconds of the game.
While the 2010 season opened on "neutral ice" in Finland with a 4-3 shootout loss to Florida, the championship run the following spring also unfolded in dramatic fashion. Coach Joel Quenneville called Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals at the UC against Nashville the turning point—when Patrick Kane scored shorthanded in the closing seconds of regulation to tie the game against the Predators. Then Marian Hossa came out of the penalty box in overtime to score the winner. Kane repeated his heroics in the clinching Game 6 in Philadelphia with his OT goal.
The 1961 champions opened the campaign in a 1-1 tie with Detroit, but with the likes of eventual Hall of Famers Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Glenn Hall and Pierre Pilote. they conquered Montreal and Detroit in the playoffs.
The Cinderella 1938 champions barely made the playoffs and had a losing season record, which included being shut out 3-0 in the opener. However, with a rare roster of predominantly American-born players, they knocked off the favored Toronto Maple Leafs in a Final that required them to dress a minor-league goalie in the series opener.
Chicago's first Stanley Cup in 1934 came behind the brilliant goaltending of Charlie Gardiner and a goal in the second overtime by Hal "Mush" March in the clinching game against Detroit. So while winning the season opener is no guarantee of re-capturing the Stanley Cup, I feel that the current Blackhawks roster is very capable of bringing back another championship to Chicago's fans!
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and his staff have done a great job in building the team into a Stanley Cup champion twice and a perennial playoff contender since he took over in 2009. Bowman's task today is even more daunting due to the hard salary cap, which affects his ability to make deals to build up young talent through trades and key draft selections.
Back in 1952, when Arthur Wirtz and Jim Norris bought the floundering Blackhawks, there were rumors that the Chicago franchise might be moved to St. Louis. On July 8, 1954, the owners lured one of the league's most successful coaches away from Detroit—Tommy Ivan. Although he never played in the NHL and was only 5 feet 5 inches, he coached the Red Wings to three Stanley Cups over seven seasons and six first-place finishes.
|(Photo by Mackenzie McCluer/Chicago Blackhawks)|
Back on June 1, there were players from 27 NHL teams that wished they had their feet in the Blackhawks' skates when they battled the Los Angeles Kings in that fateful Game 7 at the United Center. While Chicago fans are disappointed in not returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight season, it was a good run that came up only one shot or one goal short.
What makes hockey a great sport for fans is the fact that the game can change in a second—or, as Blackhawks fans remember from last year, the 17-second turnaround in Boston that clinched their second Stanley Cup in four seasons.
There was little doubt all season that being the defending champs, especially against Central Division rivals, the Blackhawks had a target on their backs. The Western Conference has proven to be more than extremely tough, with four teams having a better regular-season record than Chicago.
Not trying to make any excuses, but when you add the short turnaround from last year, plus having 10 players in the Olympics, there were no easy games. Just ask Nashville, who took the season series after winning four of five against Chicago, but didn't make the playoffs and fired longtime coach Barry Trotz.
After winning a physical series with St.Louis, a hungry Minnesota team battled the Blackhawks after upsetting division winner Colorado. Wild Coach Mike Yeo said after losing in six games that Chicago had a greater resolve.
That resolve carried the Blackhawks as they came back from a 3-1 deficit against a resilent L.A. team, which managed to get that last lucky goal off a deflected shot in overtime. So, Blackhawks fans, don't despair, because next season the team's "One Goal" remains—to bring another Cup back to Chicago!
|ST PAUL, MN - MAY 13: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks makes a glove save of a shot by Justin Fontaine #14 of the Minnesota Wild as Duncan Keith #2 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on during the second period in Game Six of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 13, 2014 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)|
Hockey players—and most fans—know that when it comes to the playoffs, you can throw the regular-season records out the window, and thus far, the current situation certainly reflects that fact. In the East, Montreal is the fourth seed and New York is fifth. Both teams did not fare well in games against the West during the regular campaign; the Canadiens were 14-12-2, and the Rangers were 14-13-1.
On the other hand, our defending champion Blackhawks had the least amount of regulation losses to Eastern Conference foes, going 19-7-6. Anaheim was the Western Conference point leader with 116, only one behind the now vanquished Boston Bruins. The Ducks went 19-8-5 vs. the East, while Los Angeles had the most wins against teams on the other side of the Mississippi, going 21-8-3.
During the regular schedule, our Blackhawks had the most trouble within its division, as opponents stepped up their game against the champions. Chicago was 1-3-1 against Colorado; 2-1-2 in matches against St. Louis and 2-3-0 against Minnesota—both of whom were knocked out of postseason contention by the Blackhawks. Against the non-playoff squads in the division, Chicago was just 1-4-0 against Nashville, but held a 4-1-0 edge over Dallas and a 3-1-0 record against Winnipeg.
Even though the Blackhawks won all three regular-season meetings with the Kings, the L.A. squad—similar to when they won the Cup in 2012—has shown their toughness in the playoffs. The Kings became only the fourth team in NHL history to rally after being down 3-0, beating San Jose to win a series. They won Game 7 on the road and again knocked off Anaheim on the road in another grueling seven-game series. With the series tied 1-1, the Blackhawks are not taking the Kings lightly, not when they have former Chicago captain and coach, Darryl Sutter, behind the bench.
The current hard salary cap has made it difficult for any team to repeat since 1998, but Chicago hopes to break that drought this year. After winning last year, the Blackhawks became the first team since 2008 to win the Cup after posting the best regular-season record. In 2010, the Hawks were third overall, and they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers—who actually shared 18th in total points. Los Angeles was ranked 13th overall in 2012 as a No. 8 seed, becoming the lowest-ranked playoff team to capture Lord Stanley's Cup.
As Head Coach Joel Quennville and others have stated, regarding the playoffs, "You win when your best players play their best!" So far that has been the case for the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks' trio of Winnipeg-born Olympians—captain Jonathan Toews, along with alternate captains Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp—made Chicago fans happy last Sunday by helping the team blow St. Louis' playoff hopes away in the crucial third period of Game 6 at the United Center.
Bolstering the solid goaltending of Corey Crawford, especially his play in the second period when the Blackhawks had to kill four consecutive minor penalties, the three Winnipeg natives contributed to the four-goal offensive explosion in the third period that broke open a 1-1 game.
Now that the "real" season for the survivors is underway, the question for Blackhawks fans is: What's it going to take to repeat?
Since the hard salary cap went into effect in 2005, no one has repeated; Detroit was the last team to accomplish that feat, winning back to back in 1997 and 1998.