The Blackhawks are pacing ahead of the 2015 championship squad after 53 games despite battling in the NHL’s toughest division with 15 skaters in the lineup who didn’t finish last season with the team. Helped by a team-record 12 straight wins, the Blackhawks entered the All-Star break with 70 points compared to 68 points last year.
There's no doubt that winning three Stanley Cups in six seasons is an amazing feat in today's salary cap era, and having won the Cup last year brings added pressure. Being in the Central Division, which many regard as the toughest in the NHL, doesn't provide much relief either. The Blackhawks hit the midpoint of the schedule this week with back-to-back games against Pittsburgh, and their sweep over two nights may set them up for a big second half.
Last season, the two wild cards came out of the Central, and there are early indications pointing in that direction again, although there is still a lot of hockey to play. Before winning the Cup, the Blackhawks finished the regular campaign third in the division and tallied 102 points to reach the playoffs.
In comparison with last season, the Blackhawks had 56 points with 27 victories after 41 games, and this season they are at 54 points with 25 wins, not too far off that pace. The 2010 Cup team had 59 points at the midway mark, but in 2011 the Blackhawks only had 45.
Considering the changes this season due to the salary cap, it appears that the Blackhawks seem to be finding their way recently. The positives so far have been the play of Patrick Kane and rookie Artemi Panarin on the offensive side. Artem Anisimov is on a pace to surpass his best goal-scoring season (22 goals in 2013-14). Corey Crawford has a league-high six shutouts and recently played in his 300th NHL regular-season game.
Thus far, 14 different players who weren't on the roster for the finals against Tampa Bay have suited up this season. Besides Panarin and Anisimov, newcomers include Erik Gustafsson, Phillip Danault, Dennis Rasmussen, Brandon Mashinter and Rob Scuderi.
Another positive of the strong first half has been the power play, which is among the league leaders. Improving their road record, which started off slow, will be another goal in the second half of the schedule. As Head Coach Joel Quennville has repeatedly said, the first goal is making the playoffs—and then it's a whole new season.
With six Stanley Cups captured in 88 NHL seasons, the Blackhawks are setting their aim on number seven and are trying to become the first to repeat since Detroit turned the trick in 1997 and 1998, prior to the start of the hard salary cap.
It is interesting to note that when the Blackhawks won their first three Cups in 1934, 1938 and 1961, they opened the season at home. The most recent three Cup-winning campaigns in 2010, 2013 and 2015 saw the Blackhawks begin their schedule on the road.
Naturally, there is a ton of hockey with an 82-game schedule that will be decided before the regular campaign ends on April 9.
Taking nothing for granted, Coach Joel Quennville has repeatedly said the toughest task is making the playoffs. After all, the Los Angeles Kings failed to reach the playoffs last season after winning the Stanley Cup in 2014.
The Blackhawks are 38-31-17 (including two overtime losses) all-time in openers. The 1934 and 1961 Blackhawks teams both tied their openers, while the 1938 Cinderella team—which won the Stanley Cup, despite a losing regular-season record—was shut out in their first game.
The 2010 team lost in a shootout at a game played in Finland, but in the 2012-13 opener, the Blackhawks spoiled L.A.'s banner-raising ceremony; last season the Blackhawks beat Dallas 3-2 in a shootout.
Winning the first game of the season after enjoying the banner-raising ceremony against the Rangers would be great, but the long-term plan remains "One Goal" in retaining the coveted Stanley Cup for Blackhawk fans!
Winning the Stanley Cup for the 2015-16 has several meanings. Every opponent has now placed a special target on the Blackhawks, and each team will use their opportunity to measure how they shape up against the champions!
Head Coach Joel Quenneville knows there's parity around the NHL, and there are no easy games. The pressure on the Blackhawks will be there from the opening faceoff to the closing buzzer.
Last season, the Blackhawks registered 24 victories each at home and on the road. Going into the third period with a lead, they were perfect during the regular season (25-0-0) and carried that momentum throughout the playoffs. The Blackhawks were 35-9-2 when they scored first. They were 9-3 in shootouts, while posting a 22-13-6 mark in one-goal wins.
The Blackhawks will have one fewer set of back-to-back games this campaign (13) compared to last season, although nine of them are on the road. The Blackhawks swept 10 back-to-backs and split the other four last season. The first set will be games two and three with the Islanders in October, while the annual November road swing has two tough sets in Calgary and Vancouver followed by Anaheim and Los Angeles.
January will provide three challenges, starting with back-to-back games against Pittsburgh. Later in the month, the road tests include Original Six matches in Montreal and Toronto, plus the following week in Tampa Bay and Florida.
March features another road battle against Boston and Detroit, before the Blackhawks wind back up in Calgary and Vancouver.
The Blackhawks have four sets of four straight home games, while the November road trip features six. There are also two other four-game road swings at the end of January and March.
For the third straight year, the Blackhawks will again play outdoors when they meet the Wild in Minnesota on Feb. 21.
As we eagerly await the drop of the puck on Oct. 7 against the Rangers, the Blackhawks’ aim remains "ONE GOAL!"
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.