May 30, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Members of the Chicago Blackhawks pose with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl after game seven of the Western Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Wow. That’s all I have to say.
If you would have told me at the beginning of the 2015 NHL regular season that the Chicago Blackhawks would once again be Stanley Cup Final-bound, I would have most likely looked at you incredulously and called the local authorities. That’s not to say that I lost faith, I’m saying that with all the events of the offseason both inside the Hawks organization and outside, I just didn’t think they had the firepower.
Boy, am I eating a heaping slice of “I-Told-You-So” pie. You see, most of us remember back to the most heartbreaking moment by far as Hawks fans, we look back to Game 7 of the Western Conference Playoffs, where the beloved Hawks season was cut down by Jake Martinez and the Los Angeles Kings. But fear not, I am not rehashing that awful experience. The Hawks had one maligned position that year, the 2nd line Center slot. We had Michal Handzus, a player, shall we say…past his prime, Marcus Kruger, and Andrew Shaw.
It didn’t go so well to say the least, and we all know what came of it. So you fast forward to the off-season. The Hawks acquired Brad Richards for relatively very little money in a one-year deal and it has paid huge dividends. The Hawks didn’t need Richards to come out and be a star, they just needed him to be faster, make smarter plays, and do all the yeoman’s work that Handzus wasn’t able to do. You look ahead to January, the one month that the Hawks have absolutely struggled with. Corey Crawford was still coming off his still strange foot injury and Scott Darling had emerged as a very viable backup option, unseating Antti Raanta.
Now advance to just before the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Nashville Predators went on a losing streak to temper their success, which meant the Central Division was won by the St. Louis Blues (sigh.) But, that wasn’t all bad, the Blues had to face the red hot Minnesota Wild and the Hawks got new arch-rival the Nashville Predators. We all remember, Corey Crawford wasn’t exactly…. okay, Crow just plain didn’t have it, so what do you know, good ole’ Lemont, Illinois native Scott Darling steps up to the plate and does more than expected, Darling baffled the Predators, until he was finally chased and Crow regained his form and nailed down the series for the Blackhawks.
Result: 4-2 Good Guys
Then, the much-feared Minnesota Wild came whistling into town. Many people were afraid of this series due to the fact that these weren’t your older brother’s Minnesota Wild. They seemingly had it all, a delicate balance of speed, finesse, and the ability to hit when they wanted to, pair that with the breakout of Devan Dubnyk, and Minny seemingly had it all. It turned out however, that they were all bark and no bite, despite some wickedly close games, the Hawks slogged Minnesota and ended up blanking Minnesota in the series
Result: 4-0 Good Guys
Then, the Blackhawks and their loyal fans were placed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs equivalent of Purgatory. Since the Hawks swept the Wild and the Ducks downed Calgary in 5 Games, each team had to wait around a week for their series to begin, and once again the Hawks lost home-ice advantage due to the Ducks being the higher seed. The Hawks got blasted in Game 1 4-1, but it was a close game up until the final frame where the Ducks physicality opened things up for their vaunted offense.
Game 2 was a much different story, the Hawks forced the game to what one could start calling their comfort zone, overtime. The Hawks defeated the Ducks 3-2 in triple-overtime after Marcus Kruger banged home a shot behind Andersen.
Game 3 was the reveal of Frederik Andersen, where the Hawks were stonewalled by Andersen even though they had numerous opportunities to score. Game 3 is also the infamous “fresh legs folly” game by Q, who elected to start Kris Versteeg instead of Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen, who is living up to his moniker of “The Boy Wonder”.
Game 4 was more overtime festivities, where Patrick Kane lived up to his legend by providing a clutch goal that sent the game into overtime with 7:21 left in the game. Then, Vermette in a scene of twisted irony, smashed home the game winner in double overtime, tying the series at 2-2 headed back to Anaheim.
Game 5 was another overtime affair but in a confusing way, turning the momentum against Anaheim when Jonathan Toews scored two quick goals to send it to overtime, but this overtime wouldn’t have a happy ending as Matt Beleskey was the beneficiary of a rebound off Crawford’s pads. Beleskey proceeded to smash home the rebound that sent the Hawks back to Chicago needing a home and away win in two straight games to win the Western Conference.
Game 6 was a much more lopsided affair, the Hawks responded resoundingly to their Game 5 heartbreak and ran the Ducks out of the United Center and back to Anaheim for a penultimate Game 7 for it all.
Game 7 started out much like Game 6, the Hawks came out flying and absolutely stunned the Ducks, Bruce Boudreau began frantically shuffling lines to spark something, the coach’s last resort. It didn’t work, while the Ducks did make a 4-0 deficit 4-2, it proved to be too little too late after a 5th goal was added, and the Ducks would never see the lead cut below two goals. The Blackhawks received the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, the trophy of the Western Conference Champions, and advanced to their 3rd Stanley Cup finals in 6 hockey seasons.
Result: 4-3 Good Guys, and the Chicago Blackhawks are once again Western Conference Champions
All the talk of Ryan Kesler’s hits were for naught, as the Blackhawks prevailed, what the next series holds, we do not know, as the Blackhawks are essentially playing a carbon copy of themselves.
One thing is assured whatever happens buckle up folks, because this is going to be a ride that you won’t want to miss out on.