It didn’t take very long for the luster to come off the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup victory. Within days of celebrating their first championship in 49 years with an estimated two million fans in a parade and rally in downtown Chicago, many key players found themselves in new places. The salary cap purge came down swift and hard, with Dustin Byfuglien, Colin Fraser, Andrew Ladd, Antti Niemi, and Kris Versteeg all finding new homes before their names were even engraved onto the greatest trophy in sports.
The core members of that 2010 team remained intact with stars like Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp, and Jonathan Toews. However, the next two seasons were rough as general manager Stan Bowman tried to find the right combination of players to surround this group to regain the magic of 2010.
The Blackhawks lost in the first round in both 2011 and 2012. They needed a Dallas Stars loss on the final day of the regular season to sneak into the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They fell behind 3-0 to the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks before losing in overtime of Game 7. The following spring, they were bounced in six games by the Phoenix Coyotes in a series that saw the first five games be decided in overtime.
The Season is Put on Hold
For the longest time, many felt the 2012-13 NHL season was never going to happen. The owners locked out the players on Sept. 19, 2012, when the collective bargaining agreement officially expired. This was the third lockout in the 19 years since Gary Bettman took over as commissioner.
The biggest sticking points for the owners in a new CBA were to reduce the players guaranteed 57% share of hockey-related revenues, introduce term limits on contracts, eliminate salary arbitration, and change free agency rules. The players’ union’s initial offers focused on increased revenue sharing between owners and a fixed salary cap that is not linked to league revenues.
As the lockout carried on, all the games on the original schedule were canceled through Jan. 14, 2013, including the Winter Classic, which was to be held at the University of Michigan and played between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. Many top stars headed over to Europe to play professionally during the work stoppage, while younger players could still play in the American Hockey League.
Finally, a tentative deal on a new CBA was reached on Jan. 6, 2013. It was ratified and signed into effect on Jan. 12, 2013, ending the lockout 119 days after it began. A new 48-game schedule was created, and the regular season finally began on Jan. 19, 2013, and concluded on April 28, 2013.
Well Worth the Wait
Before the condensed regular season got underway, the Blackhawks had some new faces in the locker room as they tried to erase the memories of back-to-back first-round exits. Veteran defensemen Sheldon Brookbank and Michal Rozsival were brought in to add to the depth on the blue line. Rookie forward Brandon Saad was ready to become a full-time NHL player and slid right into the lineup when Daniel Carcillo went down to injury.
Finally, on Jan. 19, 2013, the Blackhawks traveled west to open the season at the Los Angeles Kings. However, the drop of the puck had to wait just a little longer while the Kings raised the banner from their Stanley Cup Championship from the previous spring. The Blackhawks were quick out of the gates as they jumped out to a 3-0 lead thanks to first-period goals from Kane, Hossa, and Michael Frolik. Their 5-2 win started an unforgettable stretch of hockey that lasted nearly seven weeks.
The Blackhawks earned at least one point in each of their first 24 games, going half the season before losing in regulation. On Jan. 27, 2013, they set a new franchise record by starting the season 6-0-0 with a 2-1 overtime victory against the Detroit Red Wings. They set a new NHL record by starting the season with 17 games without a regulation loss on Feb. 22, 2013, after beating the San Jose Sharks 4-1.
During the streak, Ray Emery became the first goaltender in NHL history to start a season with 10 consecutive wins when he defeated the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on March 6, 2013. He was also the first netminder in franchise history to win 10 straight games at any point of a season. His streak was extended to 12 games before his first loss.
The historic streak lasted until March 8, 2013, when they were finally beaten by the Avalanche 6-2. They finished this exciting run with a record of 21-0-3, with all three of the losses coming in a shootout. They were 21-0 in games decided in regulation or overtime. The most impressive thing about this streak was that the 24 games were played in a span of 49 days.
At the trade deadline in early April, the Blackhawks acquired veteran center Michal Handzus from the Sharks for a fourth-round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. While his regular-season numbers didn’t jump off the page, he later showed his true value during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
On April 7, 2013, the Blackhawks became the first team in the NHL to clinch a postseason berth by beating the Nashville Predators 5-3. By beating the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 on April 24, 2013, the Blackhawks clinched home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs and won their second Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history.
Kane led the offense during the regular-season sprint with 23 goals and 55 points. Toews averaged a point per game with 23 goals and 48 points. The Blackhawks had nine different players score at least 20 points, including Saad, who finished fourth on the team with 10 goals and 27 points. Goaltenders Corey Crawford and Emery won the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing an-NHL 102 goals during the season.
However, everybody knew that the great success of the regular season meant nothing unless the team brought home the ultimate prize.
Plenty of Postseason Adversity
The Blackhawks rolled into the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the most points in the NHL. That actually worried some fans as the three of the previous four Presidents’ Trophy winners were knocked out in the first round. The last Chicago had the best record in the league back 1991; they also lost in the first round to the Minnesota North Stars.
Those fears were quickly alleviated when the Blackhawks dispatched the Minnesota Wild in five games to open the postseason. Their old rivals, the Red Wings, awaited them in the Western Conference Semifinals. After cruising to a 4-1 win in Game 1, Detroit won the next three games by a combined score of 9-2.
Things were looking like they were coming apart at the seams, and the dream season would end with a nightmare. While the Blackhawks were losing Game 4, Toews had a bit of a meltdown as his frustrations boiled over. As he sat in the penalty box, Seabrook came over to him and calmed him down. Even though Chicago fell behind 3-1, the series seemed to turn after that moment.
Andrew Shaw scored twice to lead the Blackhawks to a 4-1 win in Game 5, and Frolik’s penalty shot was the difference in a 4-3 Game 6 win in Detroit. The two teams headed back to Chicago for a winner-take-all final game between two of the league’s oldest rivals.
Game 7 was a contest few Blackhawks fans will ever forget. With the game tied late in the third period, Niklas Hjalmarsson appeared to have scored the go-ahead goal but the officials waved it off for a penalty behind the play. However, less than four minutes into overtime, Seabrook beat Jimmy Howard to send the United Center into pure bedlam and the Blackhawks onto the Western Conference Finals.
The Blackhawks met up with the reigning Stanley Cup champion Kings for the right to move on to the Final. Chicago won the first two games at the United Center to head west with a 2-0 series lead. The Kings came back to win Game 3-1. More importantly, the Blackhawks lost Keith for Game 4 as he was suspended for an ugly high-sticking incident with Jeff Carter in the second period.
Despite not having their Norris Trophy-winning defenseman, the Blackhawks won Game 4, 3-2, thanks to goals from Bryan Bickell, Kane, and Hossa. They punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final two nights later with a 4-3 double-overtime win in front of the home fans. Kane completed his hat trick by finishing off a 2-on-1 rush with Toews to clinch their second Western Conference title in the last four seasons.
From 3OT to 17 Seconds
The 2013 Stanley Cup Final featured two of the last three winners of the hockey’s ultimate prize; the Blackhawks, who won in 2010, and the 2011 champions, the Boston Bruins. This series also represented the only games played this season between the Eastern and Western Conferences.
The Blackhawks found themselves down 3-1 after Patrice Bergeron’s early third-period power-play goal. Then, as they did so many times before, the Blackhawks “flipped the switch.” Dave Bolland answered less than two minutes later, before Johnny Oduya forced overtime with less than eight minutes to play. The game needed over 42 minutes of extra time to decide a winner before Rozsival’s shot was tipped by Bolland and deflected off Shaw’s shin pads to give the Blackhawks the victory.
The Bruins got even thanks to Daniel Paille’s overtime goal in Game 3. Tuukka Rask made 28 saves in a 2-0 shutout in Game 3 as Boston took a 2-1 series lead. This was the final loss of the Blackhawks 2012-13 season.
Game 4 was another wild affair as the Bruins came back from being down 3-1, 4-2, and 5-4 to force overtime. Once again, Seabrook got to be the hero with another overtime goal to send the series back to Chicago tied 2-2. They got two goals from Kane and an empty-netter from Bolland to seal the deal on a 3-1 win in Game 5.
Game 6, at TD Garden, was one of those games that Hollywood scriptwriters could not have done a better job with. Milan Lucic gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead at the 12:11 mark of the third period. As the clock continued to tick down, it seemed that this series was coming back to the Windy City for a seventh and final game. And then, it happened….
With Crawford pulled for an extra attacker and just over a minute to play, Toews found Bickell at the front of the net with his stick on the ice, where he tapped home the pass to tie the score. As if they had been collectively punched in the nose, the Bruins were dazed as the puck was put back in play at center ice. Just 17 seconds later, Bolland beat Johnny Boychuk to a loose puck in the crease and shocked all of Boston by giving the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead.
In just a blink of an eye, the Blackhawks went from being down a goal with their goalie on the bench to being up a goal and having to fight off a 6-5 disadvantage. The final 59 seconds, which seemed to last an entirety, finally ticked off the clock, and the Blackhawks celebrated in front of a completely stunned crowd.
Kane was given the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He finished his postseason with nine goals and 19 points in 23 games. As the games became more crucial, No. 88 upped his game. In the final eight games of the postseason, he had seven goals and two assists.
The 2012-13 Blackhawks Deserve All the Props
Many might think that a team that only had to play a 48-game regular season shouldn’t be considered the greatest of all time. This condensed schedule was not like the one we’ve seen in the 2020-21 season that has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020-21, teams are only playing within their division and are playing two and three-game sets in each city to cut down on travel. The 2012-13 Blackhawks played 48 games against the entire Western Conference in 99 days. They played on back-to-back nights 13 times and only had two days or more off between games nine times during the grueling schedule. Despite all of that, they still had a 36-7-5 record, scored the most goals in the Western Conference, and allowed the fewest in the entire league.
Legendary teams usually don’t show exactly how great they are until they have their backs to the wall. These Blackhawks were pushed to the brink of elimination and found a way to win. There were numerous games that should not have gone their way, but they saved them from the jaws of defeat and turned them into memorable victories.
The Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups between 2010 and 2015, but the 2013 run was the most memorable. This team had its back to the wall numerous times and always found a way to come out on top. They have a rightful claim to being the NHL’s greatest team of all time.