It was anything but easy. From tragedy off the ice, to injuries on it, the 2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks scratched and clawed their way through a grueling regular season, and an even harder post-season to cap off their Decade of Dominance.
A Decade of Dominance:
Part One: The Foundation
Part Two: Turning Point
Part Three: One Goal Achieved
Part Four: Hangover ‘Hawks
Part Five: One Goal Achieved Again
Part Six: Heartbreak
The Chicago Blackhawks would make a surprising trade to start the 2014-15 season, sending defenseman Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders in exchange for T.J Brennan, Anders Nilsson, and Ville Pokka.
Chicago started their season on the road against the Dallas Stars on October 9th, defeating the Stars 3-2 in a shootout. Following their victory, the ‘Hawks rattled off four more games where they earned a point (3-0-1). In the final game of that stretch, goaltender Corey Crawford suffered an upper-body injury, forcing backups Antti Raanta and Scott Darling to start the last five games of the month. The duo would struggle a bit, going 2-3-0 in that span.
Crawford returned to start November, but the team would drop their first two games. The ‘Hawks found their grove on November 4th, going 9-3-0 to finish out the month.
The Blackhawks would lose their starting goaltender again to start December. Crawford injured his foot leaving a concert, once again thrusting Darling and Raanta back in to the spotlight. This time the duo caught fire, going a combined 7-1-0, including a five game win streak to start the month. Crawford returned on December 20th, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Tragedy would strike the team on December 21st.
Prior to their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the ‘Hawks were informed that long-time assistant equipment manager Clint Reif was found unresponsive at home. Reif spent nine years with the team, manning his current position for the last six.
Coach Joel Quenneville announced the news to the team prior to their game, and with heavy hearts the team went out and performed, shutting out the Maple Leafs 4-0 to honor their friend. After dropping a game to the Winnipeg Jets, the ‘Hawks won their final two games of December.
Chicago participate in their second Winter Classic, taking on the Washington Capitals at Nationals Park on January 1st in front of 42, 832 fans.
The Capitals jumped out to a 2-0 lead behind goals by Eric Fehr and Alexander Ovechkin. The ‘Hawks evened the score up thanks to goals by Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad. With the game destined for overtime, former Blackhawk Troy Brouwer scored with 13 seconds left in the game to win the game 3-2.
The Blackhawks had an up and down January, going 6-7-0 for the month. The team would only string two wins together at a time during the month, with wins over the Arizona Coyotes and Pittsburgh Penguins on January 20th and 21st.
After dropping their Febuary opener, the Blackawks would earn a point in seven straight games, going 4-0-3. At the tail end of their streak, the Blackhawks got more tragic news. Former teammate and a friend too many on the team, Steve Montador was found dead inside of his home. For the second time this season, the ‘Hawks would play with a heavy heart, winning a 2-1 shootout over the Penguins.
Chicago dropped their next two losing games to Colorado and Boston, and once again would be dealt a huge blow in their next game against Florida.
In the early moments of the game, Florida defenseman Alex Petrovic checked Patrick Kane from behind, sending him shoulder first into the boards. Kane left the game, and it was announced later on that he would miss the rest of the regular season due to a broken clavicle.
While Kane’s injury was a huge blow to the team, it allowed the team to make a few moves at the trade deadline. Chicago made three trades, first acquiring defenseman Kimmo Timonen from the Philadelphia Flyers for a 20 15 2nd round pick and a 2016 second round pick. The team would next send Klas Dahlbeck and a 2015 1st round pick in exchange for forward Antoine Vermette. One more deal would be made, sending Ben Smith to the San Jose Sharks for forward Andrew Dejardins.
The month of March started with a bang for Chicago. The team would earn a point in seven straight games, including a four game winning streak. After a four game stretch that saw the team go 1-3-0, Chicago finished the month on a two game win streak. After winning the first two games of March, the ‘Hawks dropped their last four games of the season.
Chicago finished the year with a 48-8-6 record, finishing third in the Central Division and fourth in the Western Conference. For the seventh straight year, the Chicago Blackhawks were headed back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Stanley Cup Playoffs
The Blackhawks began the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs on the road against the Nashville Predators.
Nashville chased Crawford in Game 1, scoring three goals on their first 12 shots, forcing the ‘Hawks to turn to Darling. In what became a Cinderella story, Darling stopped all 42 shots he faced, leading the Blackhawks to a double overtime victory thanks to a point blast from Keith.
Coach Joel Quenneville turned back to Crawford in Game 2, but his struggles would continue giving up six goals in a 6-2 Nashville win. Darling was back in the net for Game 3, steering the Blackhawks to a 4-2 win thanks to goals from Dejardins, Toews, Saad, and Seabrook. The Lemont native stopped 35 of the 37 shots Nashville sent his way.
Colin Wilson got the scoring started for Nashville in Game 4, scoring a power play goal 11 minutes into the opening period. The Blackhawks would trail for a minute and a half before Vermette would tie it up, beating Pekka Rinne. In the second period Nashville when James Neal capitalized on a failed Blackhawks clearing attempt. Nashville would hold the lead until the 11 minute mark in the third period, when Saad took a Hossa drop pass and wristed it past Rinne. After two scoreless overtime frames, Mr. Big Shot would once again come through with a clutch shot.
The Preds finally figured out Darling in Game 5, scoring four goals (plus an empty netter) on 28 shots to make the series 3-2. Darling struggled again in Game 6, giving up three goals on 12 shots, leading to Quenneville going back to Crawford. Even though Chicago had surrendered three goals, they too had figured out the opposing goaltender, beating Rinne for three of their own in the first period. The teams played 36 minutes of scoreless hockey before the man who won Game 1, Keith, struck again, this time sending Nashville home and Chicago to the next round.
For the third straight year, the Blackhawks took on the Minnesota Wild in the second round. Just like the previous seasons, Chicago was Minnesota’s undoing, sweeping them in four games. The ‘Hawks used a strong series by Crawford and timely goals en route to their third straight Western Conference Final.
The Blackhawks took on the Anaheim Ducks in the 2015 Western Conference Final. In Game 1 the Ducks jumped all over the ‘Hawks, beating Crawford for four goals, while Duck goalie Frederik Andersen stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced, only buckling on Brad Richards second period goal. Chicago evened the score in Game 2, in what was the longest game in Chicago Blackhawk history.
Andrew Shaw got the scoring started for the ‘Hawks in the first period with his power play goal two minutes into the game. The team would stretch the lead to two on Marian Hossa’s power play goal four minutes later. Three minutes later Andrew Cogliano cut the lead in half with his deflection on a Nate Thompson shot. The score stayed that way until the 17 minute mark of the second period, when Corey Perry deflected a Ryan Getzlaf shot past Crawford for his eighth goal of the playoffs. That goal would be the last one scored for 78 minutes.
The teams played a scoreless third period, along with two scoreless overtime periods (although, Shaw did score a goal on a soccer header that was disallowed in the second period). The game finally saw a game winner 16 minutes into the third overtime frame, when a Seabrook blast from the point ricocheted off of Kruger in front of the net behind Andersen, giving Chicago the victory and evening up the series at one.
The two teams traded victories in the following three games, with Anaheim winning Games 3 and 5. With the ‘Hawks down 3-2 in the series, their stars exploded in the second period of Game 6. Goals from Saad, Hossa, and Kane all four minutes apart put Chicago up 3-0 before Patrick Maroon got one back with six minutes left in the period. After a Clayton Stone goal two minutes into the third period cut the lead to 3-2, Chicago got a pair of goals from Shaw to ice the game and tie the series up at three.
One game away from redeeming themselves from last year’s heartbreaking defeat, the Blackhawks would rely on their Captain to send them back to the Stanley Cup Final. Two minutes into the first period, Jonathan Toews found himself in front of the net with a rebound off of a Niklas Hjlamarsson shot on his stick, which he put behind Andersen giving Chicago a 1-0 lead. Nine minutes later, Toews struck again, this time on the power play to put his team up 2-0. In the second period, Chicago got goals by Saad and Hossa and Anaheim finally found the back of the net on a Ryan Kesler goal with two minutes left in the period making it a 4-1 game heading into the third. That score held for 11 minutes before Perry scored his 10th goal of the playoffs, making it a 4-2 game. Less than two minutes later, Chicago put the dagger in the Ducks with a Seabrook blast from the right point to make it 5-2 game. Matt Beleskey scored with 42 seconds left but it would not be enough, Chicago was headed back to the Cup Final.
Stanley Cup Final
The Chicago Blackhawks took on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. In what was billed as a new guard (Tampa Bay) vs old guard (Chicago), the kids from Tampa proved that they could hang with the big teams.
In Game 1 the Blackhawks used goals by Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette to defeat the Lightning 2-1. The Lightning would take the next two games of the series, winning Game 2 by a score of 4-3, and Game 3, 3-2.
The Lightning turned to backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy in Game 4 after starter Ben Bishop was ruled out following warmups. The rookie goalie would allow only two goals, but that was enough for the veteran Chicago Blackhawks, who went on to win the game 2-1, to even up the series.
Bishop was back in net for Tampa Bay in Game 5, but even he couldn’t stop the Blackhawks train.
Chicago got on the board early, when Bishop and star Lightning defender Victor Hedman collided on open ice, allowing Patrick Sharp to skate in for the easy tap in goal. After Valtteri Filppula tied the game up in the second, the Blackhawks got a huge goal from the man they acquired at the trade deadline for these very moments.
The Chicago Blackhawks had a chance to do something that had not been done in 77 years, win the Stanley Cup on home ice.
It took 37 minutes of playing time before the first goal was scored, but when it finally hit the back of the net, the United Center crowd exploded. After Saad took the puck from Cedric Paquette, he passed it ahead to Richards, who then chipped it to Kane on the right side boards. Kane waited a few seconds before hitting the streaking Keith up the middle, who fired it on net, the original shot was stopped but Keith kept charging putting the rebound behind Bishop to give Chicago a 1-0 lead. Almost a full period later, the man responsible for winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, would strike again this time putting the dagger in Tampa Bay.
Close to 10 years after the Blackhawks began building their foundation, the team had secured their third Stanley Cup Championship in six years. In that time the team has reached the playoffs seven straight years, while appearing in five Western Conference Finals. Dynasty? Maybe. Team of the Decade? Possibly. Whatever title you put on it, the past ten years can be summed up in one word; dominant.