One of the biggest feel-good stories in this spring’s playoffs is the energetic play of the Chicago Blackhawks, who continue to prove the so-called hockey experts wrong.
With only 10 players on the roster with postseason experience, many hockey gurus believed that this speedy team was too young and inexperienced to go far.
Ironically enough, two key players who have led the Blackhawks to a first round victory against the Calgary Flames (six games), and more recently, the Vancouver Canucks (seven games), have been young guns Patrick Kane and captain Jonathan Toews.
Kane, who was taken first overall in 2007, has produced 12 postseason points, including a hat trick in a game seven 7-5 win against the Canucks.
Meanwhile, fellow young-gun Toews who was drafted in the first round third overall a year earlier has posted 10 points.
After missing the playoffs for seven-straight years and playing a lot of games over the years in a half-empty United Center, the excitement is finally back in Chicago—as seen by the fact that they have had more than a million fans come to the arena for regular-season games and playoffs combined.
In 2007, after Bill Wirtz passed away his son Rocky took over the ownership reins and made a popular move with the fans by putting home games on television. Other popular moves he made was hiring away John McDonough from the Chicago Cubs to make him team president, and bringing back Blackhawks icons from the pass in Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.
“The common denominator is to win and we wanted to move the organization ahead,” Wirtz said during the regular season. “I see us perennially going to the playoffs and, once we get there, anything can happen.”
Last summer, after Chicago enjoyed a breakout campaign by going 40-34-8 but still missing the playoffs, management made two key signings in puck-moving defenseman Brian Campbell and goaltender Cristobal Huet, who split goaltending duties with veteran and former Stanley Cup winner (2004 with Tampa Bay Lightning) Nikolai Khabibulin.
After getting off to a rough sluggish start in October, coach Dennis Savard was relieved of his duties in favour of Joel Quenneville, who got the team rolling.
Besides young Kane and Toews, veterans such as Martin Havlat, Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland, Andrew Ladd, and rugged Dustin Byfuglien have all stepped up in making the Hawks a well-balanced dangerous team—who are now marching onto the conference finals for the first time since 1995.
“They’re going to be good for a long time,” Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin said. “You look at their young guys and it’s unbelievable still. Overall, that won them the series. Three lines can score on a regular basis and we couldn’t keep up.”
If the Hawks have proven one thing, it’s don’t bet against them. Their hardest challenge just might be the next round, when they will be playing either the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings or the Anaheim Ducks.