If you had told me that there was going to be an NHL season back in December, I wouldn’t have believed you, let alone if you had told me that the Chicago Blackhawks would win their second Stanley Cup championship in four years. Well, here we are.
The 2013 season is officially in the books and the Blackhawks are Stanley Cup champions yet again after what can only be described as an utterly amazing season. It’s hard to express just how fun this season was for the city of Chicago and its patrons. Mere words don’t seem to do it justice, but I’ll give it my best. From beating the Kings on their banner-raising day to the most memorable seventeen seconds since @trot71 lost his virginity, this season was remarkable.
Up until that fateful day back in January, when fucking Adrian Dater of all people broke the news of a CBA agreement, it didn’t feel like we’d see NHL hockey until the fall of 2013. Fortunately for everyone involved, the puck dropped in Los Angeles two tortuous weeks later. Preseason optimism ran high as it often does for every team, but many felt the Kings would again represent the Bestern Conference in the Final. No, what was to transpire surpassed even the most optimistic of
Finally. After months of vitriol between the owners and the players that tested the patience of millions of hockey fans, game day had long-last arrived. The unnecessarily long Kings banner-raising ceremony seemed a fitting way to begin a season already so delayed from its previously scheduled start. Not too long into the game, Patrick Kane potted the first goal of the NHL’s and Chicago’s season. The Blackhawks controlled the rest of the game and beat the Kings in front of a sold-out house 5-2. A win to begin the season was nice, but expectations were still somewhat tempered. It was only one game, after all.
Just over a week later, and coming off a thrilling overtime win over Detroit, the Blackhawks found themselves unbeaten after six games. They showed a glimpse of how good they were, and how good could they could be. Starting a season by rattling off six wins wasn’t an easy thing to do, and the Blackhawks did it in thrilling fashion. But there was plenty of season to go and only the worst of teams don’t have stretches where they play well to some degree.
Coming off two consecutive shootout losses in the Twin Cities and in Vancouver, a bit of air in the Blackhawks bubble seemed to have been let out. They traveled to Cow Town where they found themselves trailing to and heavily out shot by the metaphorical dumpster fire known as the Calgary Flames.
It seemed that the Blackhawks were finally coming back down to Earth. Well, not exactly. At 59:58 into the game, Marian Hossa tied the game at two apiece. The Blackhawks would go on to pull a shootout win out of thin air and preserve their point streak. This team’s resilience became apparent to all who watched them. Preseason optimists seemed to be looking pretty smart, but again, the season was still young.
Fast forward to the Blackhawks’ third shutout in February; a 3-0 win in St. Louis. The Blackhawks didn’t have a shutout during the entire 2011-2012 season and they already had three a little less than halfway through their 2013 season. The point streak had reached 20 games and the record for longest point streak to begin a season had been broken a few games ago. Expectations had skyrocketed and the Blackhawks were the talk of the league. Questions such as “How much longer could they go?” “How does this streak feel?” “Does this streak even mean anything to the team?” made regular appearances in the post game interviews.
The players all thought it was a neat accomplishment, but they resoundingly agreed it didn’t mean anything without a Cup run. A couple of games later, #GorillaSalad scored a game-winning goal against the Colorado Avalanche with under a minute to go on the clock to preserve the 10-game winning streak and the point streak. The Blackhawks had gone 24 games – half of their season – without losing a game outside of the shootout. An unbelievable feat. Yet, the players echoed their sentiments from before; it didn’t mean anything without a Cup.
The regular season ended with the Blackhawks winning the President’s trophy and clinching home ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Expectations for this team had risen to “Stanley Cup or bust”. Anything less than Toews taking the Cup from Bettman’s grimy, fidgety little hands and hoisting it over his head would be considered a failure. The division and the President’s trophy didn’t mean anything without a Cup.
A 4-1 series win over Barry Melrose’s confident pick to win the Cup was nice, but the Blackhawks had played poorly compared to what they were capable of. The Detroit Red Wings wouldn’t roll over and die like the Wild did. They certainly did not.
After the 2010 Cup run, obnoxious Scum fans repeated “you didn’t have to go through us” almost as often as they do “how many cups do you have?” (s/t to @jrlind). Well the Blackhawks would get their shot to do the seemingly impossible; shut Detroit fans up. A dominating performance in game one preceded three straight losses and they found themselves one game away from elimination.
Toews had yet to score a goal, the power play was an abomination on skates, and people were already talking about Quenneville’s eminent demise as conductor of the Blackhawks’ express. A thrilling season and promising beginning to a possible Cup run felt like ages ago. It seemed poetic; the hated Red Wings looked like they would end their Bestern Conference tenure by destroying Blackhawks fans’ hopes and dreams one last time. But as long as the Hawks kept winning, they’d survive.
Game 5. Toews scored a power play goal and Andrew Shaw netted two of his own and the Hawks lived to fight another day; a 4-1 win. They had dragged themselves back into the series, but still had two more wins to go. It seemed an extremely tall task but one they’d have to complete in order to keep their Cup aspirations alive.
Game 6. Corey Crawford let up probably the softest goal of his entire career in the second period and all hope seemed lost. The doom and gloom ran rampant throughout the fan base and reached even the most optimistic of devotees.
It appeared the Blackhawks wonderful season had come crashing to an abrupt and devastatingly unexpected halt…until. Until trade deadline pickup Michael Handzus beat Jimmy Howard blocker-side just under a minute into the third. Not long after, Ronny Pickle put the Hawks ahead 3-2. Michael Frolik – AKA Taters or GROIN RIPPER – scored on a penalty shot and the Hawks forced a game seven back in Chicago; a 4-3 win.
Game 7. Of course it came down to a game seven, because the Detroit Red Wings aren’t dead things. A late Niklas Hjalmarsson goal that essentially would’ve sent the Blackhawks to round 3 was waived off because Stephon Walkom is a turd. United Center didn’t even realize the goal was waived off until about 2 minutes after Walkom made the call; they were too busy celebrating. The building and its patrons experienced the dizzying highs and crushing lows of sports fandom within minutes.
They couldn’t believe the goal was waived off. The Hawks somehow avoided a goal within the last minute and they headed to overtime. Only three minutes after the puck dropped in extra time, Brent Seabrook sent the Detroit Red Wings home and United Center up for grabs. The Blackhawks had finally “gone through Detroit”. It was a phenomenal comeback that will easily go down in Blackhawks history as a legendary series. But it wasn’t going to mean anything without a Cup.
The Los Angeles Kings were the defending Stanley Cup champions. They were to be the last obstacle before Chicago got the right to fight for the Cup. Going up 2-0 was as good of a start to the series as you could’ve asked for. But as soon as the Kings won a game in LA, the sky was falling and the Kings were leading the series 1-2 according to the local media and meatball fans. Patrick Kane drew a lot of ire in particular, with some people wondering if he #shouldof been traded to Buffalo after all.
Quenneville decided to move Kane onto the first line with Bickell and Toews, a combination that he used during the 2010 Cup run, and suddenly Kane scores and he’s the messiah. Kane follows up his game 4 performance by completing a hat-trick in double-overtime of game 5 to send the Blackhawks back to the final. He scored the first and last goal of the 2013 Kings season. But a series where the defending Cup champions never really felt legitimately threatening didn’t mean anything without a Cup.
A triple overtime victory after being down 2-0 and then 3-1 in game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins was about as exhilarating as it gets. A heart-breaking loss in overtime of game 2 followed by a 2-0 loss in game 3 put a lot of doubt into the hearts of Blackhawks fans everywhere. But the players didn’t doubt themselves. Not for one goddamn minute.
A ridiculous game 4 overtime win where 11 goals total were scored put the Blackhawks right back into the series. They bailed out Crawford on the only clunker performance he had all postseason and brought the series back to Chicago knotted at 2 apiece. Game 5 almost killed Patrice Bergeron and put the Blackhawks ahead 3-2 in the series. They were only one win away from recapturing the Cup, but they had to beat Boston at TD Garden in game 6 to do it.
The Bruins played well throughout most of game 6, including absolutely dominating the first 20 minutes of the game. The Hawks were lucky to only be down 1-0 at the end of the first. The Captain put the Hawks on the board as he burned Chara and shot the puck through Rask’s legs. Fast forward to a few minutes past the midway marker of the third period. Milan Lucic punishes the Blackhawks for some sloppy play in their own end and puts the Bruins up 2-1 with about 7 minutes to go. A game 7 seemed all but inevitable at this point. It looked like the slobbering NBC executives were going to get their wish.
But then Corey Crawford skated to the bench and the extra attacker came on. Toews worked until he gets the puck and passed it out to Bickell who slammed home the puck to tie the game with 1:16 left to go in the game. A mere 17 seconds later, Dave Bolland capitalized on a Rask rebound and the Blackhawks took a 3-2 lead in the game and eventually win the Stanley Cup.
All of those qualifiers about how nothing that happened throughout the season mattered unless they won the Cup were suddenly irrelevant. Toews took the Cup from Bettman’s sausagy hands and hoisted it above his head for all of 10 seconds before he handed it off to Handzus and subsequently Jamal Mayers.
A season filled with so many unforgettable moments and memories was capped off and validated by winning the Stanley Cup. Expectations became extraordinarily high as the season went on and the potential of this club became apparent. It’s fantastic to have those expectations and that potential realized.
The feeling is incomparable. In a town where playoff seasons are reminisced upon, it’s surreal to be able to speak about championships plural, let alone championships within a few years of each other. You can’t help but get the feeling that the Blackhawks are going to hoist a few more by the time all is said and done with this team. With their second championship in four years, they’ve officially entered the dynasty conversation as well as established a precedent that nothing short of a championship can and should be expected at the end of each year. That’s an unbelievable thing to even comprehend for this team just seven years ago.
It’s hard to believe that the season is already over as it seems like the Kings raised their banner only yesterday. But it is, and it ends with the Blackhawks being able to raise a banner of their own when October rolls around; a banner some thought wouldn’t be raised by any team just a few short months ago. Funny how things can change.