It's a Blackhawks World, We Just Live in It (Repost from June 17th, 2005)
The NHL season ended Monday with the Chicago Blackhawks lifting the most valuable trophy in sports; Lord Stanley’s cup. It was almost predictable as the Blackhawks have been here before twice, yet it still felt special because of where they did it. The Blackhawks clinched the Stanley Cup title win at home for the first time since 1938, and 'The Madhouse on Madison' become even crazier than ever.
There is a reason we call the NHL playoffs “the best postseason in sports” as it showcased Overtimes, Double Overtimes, and Triple Overtimes, and of course last-second heroics. But the season before that was just as good. Out west, the Nashville Predators were making a mark early in the season as the team that came out of nowhere as they were at one point the hottest team in hockey. The Anaheim Ducks were having a strong season, but everyone was waiting to see what they would do in the playoffs. The Blackhawks were merely staying afloat during the season as injuries hurt them, including a major injury to Patrick Kane.
The defending champion Los Angeles Kings were struggling to do anything as they were playing the most mediocre hockey you will ever see yet their fans continually insisted “they will come around and make the playoffs” but as the season got closer to an end, reality soon hit and the Kings could not “just get hot” this season and they became another embarrassment as only the fifth team in NHL history to miss the playoffs the year after winning the cup. Others like the San Jose Sharks faded into obscurity as they realized they needed to rebuild, and there were teams like the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild that drew onto genuine hope that they would have a chance at the greatest trophy in sports. The rest like the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets were happy with the chance to show what they could do in the postseason.
Back east, the New York Rangers remained the kings of the east and they did it as a team with team defense and a backup goalie named Cam Talbot, as Henrik Lundqvist had an injury for several months. The Tampa Bay Lightning were scary for the majority of the season as the “Triplets Line” were lighting up scoreboards and destroying teams left and right, including some Western Conference powers like the Ducks. The Montreal Canadiens held onto the possibility of continuing to win games by low scores of 1-0 and 2-1 while receiving outstanding goaltending from Carey Price. The Detroit Red Wings were dealing with their coach possibly leaving them (Mike Babcock would eventually leave the Red Wings to become the Toronto Maple Leafs coach). Others like the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals were hoping to stitch their names into playoff lore with success in the postseason while the Ottawa Senators had an improbable run to the playoffs behind goalie Andrew Hammond where they would make it and take the Habs to the limit. The East also saw the fall of the Pittsburgh Penguins as Sidney Crosby and company barely eked it in, only for the Rangers to quickly dispatch them while the Boston Bruins missed the playoffs behind inconsistent play and bad breaks.
In the end, there was only one king; the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks received a stiff challenge at the start from the Nashville Predators but overcame bad goaltending and a subsequent controversy to take down the Preds in six games. They received almost little to no challenge from the Minnesota Wild as they swept them in four games. The Anaheim Ducks did, however, give them a fight. It was probably one of the best seven-game tilts you will ever see as it saw each team trading wins until the final almost anticlimactic game in which the Blackhawks steamrolled the Ducks in front of their fans to seal their ticket to the Stanley Cup. They would then beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in a series in which the Lightning dominated from the outset but could not control later on.
The Blackhawks had issues, and we criticized them. But when it mattered most, they answered the call. Duncan Keith played his heart out and deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy for his excellent play, not just in the series against the Ducks but in their series against the Lightning. Corey Crawford came alive in the series against the Wild as he shook off a bad first round to be pure excellence. He then continued the great goaltending in the Western Conference Finals against the Ducks that probably stole a few games for the Blackhawks. He would be the lifesaver once more against the Lightning, and if not for Crawford, the Blackhawks probably would not be champions right now.
It was an enjoyable season for most as the action was exciting, and the games were heart-stopping. Many hockey fans will ask the same question today and until the end of the summer; is it October yet?