Jim Neveau, Staff Writer
With their win on Friday night, the Blackhawks clinched their playoff spot. They guaranteed themselves at least the sixth seed in the Western Conference, and in the process are headed to the Cup playoffs for the first time since 2002.
“It’s a great achievement,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville told reporters after the game. “That was our motivation at the start of the year; our No. 1 priority and objective.”
“It was exciting at the end,” Toews aid. “The crowd was going and it was exciting to them, but it means even more to us. We didn’t want to wait for Sunday or anything later.”
The win also put them in fourth place in the conference. According to the Blackhawks’ official website, the Hawks are only making the postseason for the second time in 11 seasons since their 28 straight playoff appearances streak ended in 1997.
During the game, the Hawks also saw a sight that is sure to send worried chills up the spines of Blackhawks fans everywhere: Patrick Sharp going down in a heap after being hit from behind on a breakaway attempt. He ran into goalie Pekke Rinne, and skated off on his own power, but he left the game after the period. He was on the bench, but was unable to return.
He is day-to-day.
With the Hawks clinching their playoff spot today, it seems only natural to launch into one of those year-end pieces that will inevitably clog the interwebs over the next week and a half. In this edition, we will focus on the five most memorable moments from the Blackhawks’ 2008-2009 season.
It was a season that many fans will remember forever, young and old, and they will remember it as the season that the hockey renaissance in Chicago came to full fruition.
#5: The Blackhawks’ Entire Month of December
Yes, the “technical grammar” parade will undoubtedly assail this selection as not a true “moment”, but this month was a special one for the Blackhawks. They went 10-1-1 during the month, including their team record nine game winning streak.
Looking back at some of the teams that they beat, it reads like a playoff preview. They beat the Ducks in their first December game, and also got wins against the Blue Jackets, Flames, and Canucks during the winning streak. They also got a point from Detroit in a 5-4 shootout loss on December 6th.
Five of the nine wins in their streak were also on the road.
The streak was the point in the season where pundits and puckheads alike really started to take notice of the Hawks. It also amped up the anticipation for the Winter Classic to a fever pitch in the city and in the league.
Honorable Mention #1: Opening Night Red Carpet Festivities
A bit of cheesy fun never hurt anybody, and seeing the players show up on a red carpet in front of the United Center in suits and in stretch limos was certainly a bit of an amusing sight. The franchise also showed how they were once again relevant in the town by the reaction they got from the fans who showed up.
#4: Ben Eager vs. Kevin Bieska, Alex Burrows Yanking Duncan Keith’s Hair
This fight will be looked back on with a mixture of fondness and anger by Blackhawks fans. Granted, it came in a game in which the Hawks got their brains beaten in by the Canucks, but the fight is what will stick out when it is thought of.
It all started when Dustin Byfuglien gave Roberto Luongo a glove to the face on a stopped breakaway attempt, and from there, all hell broke loose.
Ben Eager and Kevin Bieska engaged in a fight that saw a bit of everything. Eager landed a left jab to the jaw of Bieksa, who in turn pinned him to the ground and threw a couple of wild punches, followed by Eager picking him up and suplexing him to the ice.
Other fights and skirmishes broke out, including Burrows’ not infamous hair tug on Keith. In all, 80 minutes of penalties were handed out as a result of this melee, and it certainly set the tone for a very intense series should the teams meet in the playoffs.
Honorable Mention #2: The firing of Denis Savard/Hiring of Joel Quenneville
An honorable mention because of the circumstances under which it happened, this move probably had more to do with the season than any other. Savard had brought the team to within three points of the playoffs the previous year, but the front office had determined that he was not going to be able to take the team to the next level.
Enter Joel Quenneville. He took the team by the scruff of the neck, upped the tempo in practice, and made sure that the team knew exactly what its goals were for the season. This helped them immensely this year, as they struggled through times of bad play, but also enjoyed unprecedented successes as well.
#3: Keith Magnuson/Pierre Pilote Retirement Ceremony
This ceremony, which was held on November 12th before a game against the Bruins, was a touching reminder of what the franchise has meant to different generations of Blackhawks fans. Baby Boomers remember thrilling to the exploits of Pilote, while the children of the 60’s cheered on Magnuson as he fought everyone who dared challenge him.
While the speeches and the pomp were all entertaining and touching, the thing that most people will remember who attended this game, or watched it on TV, was the ovation that the Blackhawks legends got when they were introduced prior to the ceremony. The biggest ovation of all went to Denis Savard, and nearly dwarfed the whole proceeding. He looked almost embarrassed at how loud the arena got when his name was announced.
Savard, who had been fired by the franchise almost a month to the day of the ceremony, was definitely the nicest surprise of the night, but the sight of the Hawks legends welcoming Pilote into their ranks was something to behold. Overall, it was a great effort on the part of the Hawks to infuse some sense of history into their season, and it was a long overdue honor for the two men.
#2: Toews’ Hat Trick False Start
In a game that the NHL had to be thinking of when they instituted sweeping changes to the way teams are scheduled, the Blackhawks were taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 27th at the United Center, and there was a buzz in the air.
You see, the fans who had come to the game early received a Blackhawks hard hat upon entry to the stadium, and it is a scientific fact that people who have received something awesome for free are generally more happy than others, and this night was no exception.
The buzz started early, when Jonathan Toews scored a power play goal. The crowd erupted, but it was generally assumed that would be the last we hard from Tazer. This was an incorrect assumption.
He added a second power play goal, and you could definitely feel the buzz growing inside of the building on West Madison. Then, all of a sudden, he knocked in what appeared to be his third goal, and the place absolutely exploded. Those same hard hats that people had received were being tossed onto the ice, and some were even coming down from the upper level onto the lower level. Those same people who chucked helmets were stunned moments later when the goal was overturned, and Toews’ hat trick turned into a false start.
Well, Toews didn’t send the masses home disappointed, as he added an officially sanctioned third power play goal and more helmets came flying onto the ice. While the Blackhawks did end up losing the game, it was still a great moment that ended up generating a lot of enthusiasm and great memories for fans at the game and watching it on TV. Oh, not to mention countless plays on Sportscenter and hits on various blogs.
#1 The Winter Classic at Wrigley Field
This is the biggest duh in the history of the free world. The Winter Classic is the single most important event in the evolution of the Blackhawks from sports after thought in Chicago to a force in the sporting scene of the country. The game drew huge ratings for an NHL regular season game, sold out with more than 240,000 ticket requests, and was a unique way to see the Friendly Confines.
The game itself didn’t disappoint either, with a lot of scoring throughout and an overcast sky that only added to the winter wonderland appeal of the game. It helped that the two franchises involved are of a huge historical significance in the league, and that the defending champs were playing in the game, but overall, the entire experience was something that every fan of either team will remember for the rest of their lives.
It is those things that make this moment number one in the 2008-2009 season for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Perhaps more memories will be made when the playoffs start on April 16th. Only time will tell.
James started out for The Hockey Writers covering the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, and has also covered the Chicago Blackhawks, served as NHL Correspondent, and is now a Managing Editor and the site’s NHL Central Blogger. He also writes for The Golf Writers.