For the Chicago Blackhawks, their season ended earlier than planned. After losing out in Game 7 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, many Hawks fans have had a chance to reflect on the highs and lows of the season that perhaps shouldn’t have ended when it did.
The season started off in good form for the reigning Stanley Cup champions. In the first month of the regular season, the Hawks won just over half of their games played, including the first two shutouts for netminder Corey Crawford. Throughout the season, the Hawks faced many challenges but overcame them to achieve what was, in many ways, a record-breaking year.
Take Patrick Kane, for example. Kane had to overcome many difficulties over the summer and then again as the season progressed. However, he had the best season of his career so far, tallying up 106 points in 82 games to become the first American-born player in NHL history to win the Art Ross Trophy. Before Christmas, he achieved a Blackhawks record in scoring at least a point per game in 26 consecutive matches. He totaled 50 points in that time that included 16 big goals for the Hawks. The organisation and the fans honoured his incredible accomplishment by presenting Kane with a gold puck.
The fans again showed their appreciation as they voted him the team’s MVP and, for his play against the St Louis Blues in Game 5 of the playoffs, it was voted the Allstate Play of the Year at the Blackhawks Fans Choice Awards.
Crawford Proved His Worth
Another player that put on more than a show for the fans and the rest of the league over the season was the aforementioned Crawford. With a career high of seven shutouts throughout the season, he topped all other goaltenders in that category. He also ranked fourth in the NHL with 35 wins to his name and fifth for his .924% save percentage. Not a bad year for the two time Stanley Cup winner. However, towards the end of the season in March, Crawford was forced to miss eleven games due to an upper body injury. In that time, Scott Darling took to the pipes with Michael Leighton, called up from the Hawks’ affiliate team in Rockford, as his back-up.
In Crawford’s absence, Darling started every game, only having to be replaced during the 6-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on March 22. It was also during this time that Darling recorded his first shutout of the season on March 18 against the Winnipeg Jets, coming exactly a year to the day since his first NHL career shutout.
Upon Crawford’s return to the line-up, he started in all seven games of the first playoffs round. Even though the Blackhawks didn’t make it any further in the competition, Crawford put on a spectacular show in the net, and one particular series of saves made it the Fans Choice for Save of the Year.
Between December 29 and January 19, the Hawks showed that they could’ve been real contenders for the Cup once again. In that run, the Hawks won all 12 games played that included the two-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins on consecutive days. For a short time, the Hawks were contending with the eventual Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals, for that top spot in the league. It was in the run up to the end of the season, though, that almost destroyed the Hawks’ chances of defending the Cup. However, the Hawks did clinch that all important playoff spot and finished a respectable fifth place in the league overall.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the season just gone. Last summer, the Blackhawks made a lot of changes to their roster and ended up with a very competitive team that just seemed to run out of gas when they needed it most. If the Hawks can keep a hold of the core of their team, it’s been proven that anyone else that comes in, seems to fit right in. If they can tweak what needs to be tweaked, the Hawks could possibly have another Stanley Cup win on their hands.