The Chicago Blackhawks gave the Stanley Cup Favorite Canucks everything they could handle, pushing Vancouver—and history—to the breaking point. And they gave us fans some marvelous hockey while they were at it.
After going down three games to none, everyone had all but written off the defending champs. It was evident that the Canucks had done so, as they allowed the Hawks to climb back into the series and force a game 7.
Sport doesn’t get a lot better than this. But lets rewind for a moment and try to see the big picture.
After winning the dance last year the Blackhawks had to disband. Sure, their core was still there. But most of the guts of this team had to be put on a lift and rotated out of town due to cap constraints. This wasn’t a surprise. The Hawks were built to win last year, and they didn’t disappoint. But just a few short days into their celebrations the deals starting to go down.
The team that took the ice come October’s opening night just wasn’t the same swagger filled squad that we had seen storm through the playoffs just a few shorts months prior. This looked like a team looking for an identity.
Chicago stumbled out of the gate, but their detractors were few. Most assumed it would only take Kane and the gang a few weeks to sort themselves out. To reinvent themselves on the fly and figure out what they were playing for.
Instead, they were hammered night in and night out as teams raised their games to test their mettle against the champs. This is nothing new. But after losing consistently from the outset, it seemed to accidentally become what this team was about. Fighting against themselves, their success, and what it had caused.
It’s hard to remember, but a lot of these guys saw their room mates traded away during what was supposed to be a time of celebration. I’m not making excuses for the team, and I know they wouldn’t make them either. But the voices in the locker room and responses on the ice the team had been used to getting were suddenly gone.
They scrapped through the rest of the regular season, giving their fans ulcers up until the final day of the regular season, where they lost the game they needed to win most and needed help from the Dallas Stars to make the playoffs.
After the eleventh hour and the dust had settled they were in. And an old foe awaited them. The Vancouver Canucks. The same team they had played, beaten, and ousted the previous two playoff years.
Chicago found itself shut out in the first game, and defeated in the second and third to find itself still looking for answers. They were all but finished, their backs against the cold and unforgiving wall of nearly 100 years of playoff history. Only three teams had recovered from this deficit. Never mind that this was an eight seed taking on the top team in the League.
And it was then that the Chicago Blackhawks found themselves.
They weren’t defending champs now—a young and hip “it” team playing in one of the World’s best cities. They were dead in the water, and no one was giving them a second thought. It was in this murky and damp, albeit shallow grave that the team resurrected, and found their identity.
One that is sure to carry on into 2012 and beyond.
In the fourth, fifth, and sixth games this was a determined and driven hockey team that had found the will and want to win again. They were hungry. They were battling. It was as if they were just now shaking off the hangovers from a summer long celebration.
And the Hawks gave game 7, the Canucks, history, and us hockey fans everything we could handle. My heart is still racing. This was everything that made me love this game. A team can-ing while they just shouldn’t be. Battles and blood. Blocked shots and blown calls. All so human, every second counting.
Down 1-0 through almost the entire game, Corey Crawford established himself as a money goaltender (at least for now) and made huge save after huge save. Chicago takes an untimely penalty with about three left to play, apparently zeroing their chance at tying the game.
The shorthanded, last-minute goal by none other than the team’s captain only solidified the identity that this team had finally found for itself: A never say die, everyone outside of this locker room can go to hell kind of mindset.
They may have come up short, but the strides they took as a team will resonate through the off-season and beyond. It may hurt now, but come October there will be no hangover. Just a very determined hockey team, with very talented individuals running the ship.
The Blackhawks did their city proud the last few weeks. And I am thankful I was witness.