After a record-setting 2012-13 season, that saw them win their second Stanley Cup Championship in three years, the Chicago Blackhawks would once again be faced with salary cap constraints. Could they overcome the purge to come and do what they failed to do in 2010, return to the Stanley Cup Final?
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
The Purge 2.0
The Blackhawks handed out a few contract extensions during the previous season and the 2013-14 offseason. Bryan Bickell was awarded for his strong playoff performance (nine goals, seven assists) with a four-year $16 million contract extension. Also getting a raise was Corey Crawford, who signed a six-year $36 million contract. Chicago also handed out an extension to “core” member Niklas Hjalmarsson, who received a five-year $20.5 million extension.
Due to these extensions the ‘Hawks once again found themselves up against the cap wall, and just like after the 2010 Cup run, the team was forced to shed cap.
The first person dealt in the offseason was the man who scored the cup clinching goal, Dave Bolland. Bolland, who was one of eight players to win a cup in 2010 and 2013, was sent to Toronto for 2013 second and fourth round pick, and a 2014 fourth round pick.
The next player on the way out was Michael Frolik, a crucial member of the ‘Hawks penalty killing team. Frolik was sent to the Winnipeg Jets for a 2013 third and fifth round pick. The Blackhawks also traded Daniel Carcillo to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a 2015 sixth round pick.
Also lost in the purge was Ray Emery, a man who along with Crawford won the Jennings trophy the year before, and Viktor Stalberg to free agency.
Unlike the previous season, the Chicago Blackhawks did not start the 2013-14 season on a historic run. After winning their opening game against the Washington Capitals, Chicago dropped their next two.
After the two game slide, Chicago found their grove, going 5-0-2 over their next seven games. After losing to Minnesota on October 26th, the ‘Hawks went on to win their last two games of the month. The month of November saw the team go on a streak similar to the 2013 run. After beating the Jets at home, Chicago dropped a game to Calgary. They went on to win four straight games before losing to the Nashville Predators. After a win against San Jose and a loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the ‘Hawks won six straight to end the month of November.
Chicago dropped their first three contests of December (0-2-1), before going on a three game winning streak that ended on a 7-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. During that streak Crawford went down with an injury during a 6-2 win over the Florida Panthers on December 8th. Crawford’s backup, Antti Raanta, led the team to an 8-1-2 record to close out December, including a 5-0-2 record following the loss to Toronto.
Crawford would return on January 2nd, an overtime loss to the New York Islanders. The Blackhawks would go on to loss Crawford’s next four starts, before getting the young netminder his first win since returning on January 17th. After winning their next game, the ‘Hawks dropped their next four games, before defeating Vancouver Canucks to end January.
The Blackhawks dropped their first game of February, a 2-1 shootout to the San Jose Sharks. They went on to win their next two while dropping their last two games before the Olympic break.
Just like in the 2010 season, the Blackhawks were sending numerous players to the Olympics. Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Patrick Sharp would be joining Team Canada. Johnny Oduya, Marcus Kruger, and Hjalmarsson joined Team Sweden. Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus joined the Czech Republic’s National team, while Patrick Kane joined Team USA. Toews, Keith, and Sharp’s Canadian team would knock off Oduya, Hjalmarsson, and Kruger’s Sweden team in the Gold Medal game.
The Blackhawks would resume the NHL season playing in a Stadium Series game at Soldier Field against the Pittsburgh Penguins. In a game played in a winter storm in front of a crowd of 62,921 the Blackhawks defeated the Penguins 5-1.
After a loss to the Avalanche Chicago won their next two before going on a two game losing streak. Following their skid, the ‘Hawks went 4-1-1 in their next six, before falling into a three game losing streak. The Blackhawks opened the month of April winning four straight, but lost their final two games to close out the season.
Chicago’s 46-21-15 record was good enough for third in the Central, and their 107 points placed them third in the conference.
After a five-year drought that spanned from 2002-2007, the Chicago Blackhawks had qualified for their sixth consecutive post-season appearance.
Stanley Cup Playoffs
The Blackhawks found themselves on the road to open the 2013-14 playoffs, traveling to St. Louis to take on the Blues.
Chicago would drop the first two games of the series, losing both in overtime by the score of 4-3. Crawford once again proved his playoff dominance, stopping all 34 shots he faced en route to a 2-0 shutout win. Toews and Kruger accounted for the teams goals in the game. After Kane and Andrew Shaw gave the ‘Hawks a 2-0 lead in Game 4, St. Louis stormed back with three straight of their own to take a 3-2 lead. That lead would hold until Bryan Bickell redirected a Michal Rozsival shot past Ryan Miller to tie it up with just under four minutes to play to force an overtime period. 11 minutes into the overtime frame, Kane took the puck in his own end and skated up ice, going down the left side boards with two players with him, Kane kept the puck and fired it past Miller to even the series up at two.
Game 5 saw more overtime heroics from the Blackhawks, as this time it was Toews striking. After Alex Pietrangelo evened the game up in the third, Toews took a stretch pass from Ketih on a breakaway and beat Miller with a backhand seven minutes into the overtime period.
After two tight games, the Blackhawks exploded for five goals in Game 6, getting goals from Bickell, Toews, Sharp, Shaw, and Keith, to advance to the next round.
In a rematch of the 2013 quarterfinals, the Blackhawks took on the Minnesota Wild next. The ‘Hawks would win both games at home (5-2, 4-1), but then drop both games on the road (0-4, 2-4). In a pivotal Game 5, Crawford stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced and got goals from Bickell and Toews to take a 3-2 series lead. Crawford would once again come up large in the series clinching Game 6, this time stopping 34 of 35 shots. Kris Versteeg would give Chicago a 1-0 lead in the first, but Erik Haula evened it up two minutes into the second. The game would go into overtime, where once again “showtime” Kane played hero. After Seabrook’s dump in took a bad bounce in front of net, Kane deposited the puck behind Wild goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to send Chicago to their second straight Western Conference Final.
The 2014 Western Conference Final turned out to be a rematch of the 2013 Western Conference Final, between the Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings. The ‘Hawks would take the first game of the series 3-1, using goals by Brandon Saad, Keith and Toews to be Jonathan Quick. The Kings would go on to win the next three games by a combined score of 15-7.
Chicago jumped out to an early 1-0 lead when Seabrook capitalized on a power play, Oduya followed two minutes later putting the ‘Hawks up 2-0. Jarret Stoll cut the lead in half six minutes later, but Saad would extend it again just under two minutes later. After a Marian Gaborik goal, the teams went into the locker room with Chicago leading 3-2. Dustin Brown and Tanner Pearson put the Kings ahead in the second period, scoring goals two minutes apart. With their playoff lives on the line, Ben Smith gave the Blackhawks life evening up the game just minutes into the third period. The teams would play a scoreless remainder of the third period as well as a scoreless overtime period, before the Blackhawks got a goal from an unlikely hero.
After stealing the puck at certain ice, Handzus got the puck to Kane who skated in and dished it off to Saad. Saad looked and found a streaking Handzus in front of the net, who beat Quick with a backhander.
In Game 6, the Blackhawks used their star power to force a Game 7. Backed by two goals by Kane, along with goals by Keith and Smith, the ‘Hawks beat the Kings 4-3. With the game tied 3-3 late in the third, Kane took the puck into the Kings zone, and skated to the right face-off circle, from their her circled back to the point, skating to his left just a bit before firing past Quick with 4 minutes left in the game.
The previous season, Kane put the dagger in the Kings, this season it would be the ‘Hawks on the other end of the dagger.
The Blackhawks jumped up to a 2-0 lead in the first period, getting goals from Saad and Toews. The Kings evened the score with two goals just under a minute a part late in the first. Just eight seconds later, the ‘Hawks would get the lead back on a goal by Sharp. 10 minutes into the second period, Tyler Toffoli tied the game up, but once again Sharp would give the ‘Hawks the lead with two minutes to go in the period.
With a return trip to the Cup Final in the grasp, Chicago just had to hold on for 20 minutes. They made it 12 before a Gaborik shot got past Crawford to tie the game up. Five minutes into the overtime period, heartbreak struck the Blackhawks.
The Chicago Blackhawks had come just shy of potentially doing something that had not been done since 1997-98.
The Dynasty would have to wait another year.
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