With the playoffs exactly one week away, I thought it'd be appropriate to reflect on some of the best moments over the past two seasons and get pumped up for the Hawks' best shot at a Stanley Cup in two decades.
These are only based on my opinion, of course. I realize that being in attendance for a good portion of these makes me biased. Also, these aren't necessarily listed in order of importance. If they were, the list would consist of all 9 playoff wins last season and the Winter Classic. I'm trying to add some variety. With how many choices there are, I'm sure I'll forget a couple candidates as well. I welcome your feedback and opinions in the comments section.
10.) Friday, April 3rd, 2009 vs. Nashville: Hawks clinch first playoff spot in seven years
This game against the Predators was nothing special on paper. A 3-1 victory over a mediocre team at home was expected. But as the PA announcer stated his usual "One minute remaining in the 3rd period...one minute!", the United Center crowd stood as one and went crazy. Why? The Hawks were finally headed back to the playoffs for the first time since 2001-2002. To put that in perspective, I was in 8th grade the last time it happened. As I stood there and soaked it all in the night they clinched, I was a 21 year old junior in college with a beer in my left hand. After years of suffering through Alexander Karpovtsev, Theo Fleury, and Adrian Aucoin, my favorite team was finally back in the best postseason in sports. "Redemption" is really the only appropriate word for that night.
9.) Saturday, October 10th, 2009 vs. Colorado: Home opener, longest shoot-out in team history, legends skate during pre-game
Anyone in attendance on this night received some unexpected treats. First, during the pre-game introductions, we got to see four Blackhawks legends skate in their old gear to center ice. Tony Espositio, in his old time goalie equipment and all, joined Bobby Hull, Denis Savard, and Stan Mikita at center ice in front of a pumped up crowd. I wouldn't doubt if many grown men were holding back tears in the United Center during that moment.
As far as the game itself, the Hawks won in exciting fashion as they erased a 2-goal deficit and beat Colorado in a 9-round shootout.
8.) Monday, October 12th, 2009 vs. Calgary: Hawks erase a 5-goal deficit and win 6-5
Only two nights after the Colorado game, the Hawks made history again. Cristobal Huet let in 3 goals on 5 shots to start the game, and Antti Niemi came out in relief. Niemi let in two more goals, and before many fans had settled into their seats, the Hawks were down 5-0. But as the Hawks proved in last year's playoffs, they simply can never be counted out. The Hawks chipped away at the lead, scoring a goal late in the 1st period, and then exploding for three goals in the 2nd. After Duncan Keith tied it in the 3rd, Hawks' defenseman Brent Seabrook lit the lamp to win it in overtime.
7.) Friday, December 26th, 2008 vs. Philadelphia: Hawks win 8th straight game
I realize this game seems out of place among the others, but at least for this Blackhawks fan, it ranks right up there. The Hawks were just coming home from a Canada road trip, and had won seven in a row to move into 4th place in the West. I'm not sure I've ever been apart of a more adoring home crowd than on this night. There were enthusiastic standing ovations before warm-ups, during intros, after good shifts, and after every period. I recall a distinct moment early in the game during the first TV timeout that defined the night. The Hawks were already up 2-0 after goals from Ladd and Sharp, and as the teams skated to their respective benches, you would have mistaken the atmosphere for a playoff game. The Hawks went on to win the game 5-1, and the next time the team touched Chicago ice, it would be at Wrigley Field.
6.) Wednesday, November 25th, 2009 vs. San Jose: Hossa's first game as a Hawk
This game was special in so many ways. First, it was the long-awaited Blackhawks debut of superstar Marian Hossa. Second, it was against the top team in the West, the San Jose Sharks. Expectations were high during the days leading up to the game, especially when Quenneville announced that Hossa would skate on a line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. As the puck dropped, Quenneville made a quick line change, sending 19,88, and 81 over the boards. It was quite possibly the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. To say that the Hawks dominated this game would be an understatement. Hossa scored twice, one of them shorthanded, and the Hawks embarrassed the Sharks on their own ice, 7-2. This game was an eye-opener for the rest of the NHL, as the Hawks were clearly one of the teams to beat.
5.) The Winter Classic.
I know, I know, this is a tad low for this game, but I couldn't bring myself to place it above any of the games I have in mind for 1-4.
But really, what else can be said about this game? The fact that the Hawks lost to the Red Wings is irrelevant compared to how awesome this day was. It was a rivalry, two Original Six teams, historic Wrigley Field, nationally televised, and the true peak of the franchise's resurgence.
4.) Friday, May 22nd, 2009 vs. Detroit: Hawks win Game 3
Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals had everything you'd expect from a Hawks-Red Wings playoff game: Intensity, hard hitting, drama, "detroit sucks" chants, and near-fights in the stands. We all remember when Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall nearly killed Martin Havlat along the side-boards, but I prefer to look back on the positives from this one. The Hawks got out to a 3-0 lead, only to see it vanish in the 2nd period as Detroit scored three times to close out the period. When Cristobal Huet took the net for the 3rd period because of a Nikolai Khabibulin injury, many felt the Hawks' chances were coming to an end. Huet hadn't played in over a month, and there's a reason he wasn't the starter in the first place. But Huet held up his end, the game went into overtime, and Sharp scored in dramatic fashion to get the Hawks back in the series.
3.) Thursday, May 7th, 2009 vs. Vancouver: Hawks save season by winning Game 4
Before every home playoff game last spring, a different statement was displayed on the United Center jumbotron prior to the intro videos. Before this game, it simply read: "82 regular season games. 9 playoff games. None bigger than tonight." This was accurate, as the Hawks were trailing the Canucks 2-1 in the series, and were in danger of heading back to Vancouver down 3-1.
The Canucks controlled most of this game, as they took a 1-0 lead in the 2nd period and tried to sit on it until the final horn. As the minutes seemed to just fly by in the 3rd period, and the clock crept under 3 minutes, the crowd was as nervous as it had been all season. Luckily, Marty Havlat and Andrew Ladd had other ideas. With 2:44 remaining in the 3rd period, Havlat put one past Roberto Luongo to tie it. Early in the overtime period, Ladd deflected a Dave Bolland shot past Greasy Bob to win it for the Hawks.
2.) Thursday, April 16th, 2009 vs. Calgary: First playoff game in seven years
This night was what diehard Blackhawks fans had been waiting for since 2002. You could literally feel a change in atmosphere once the doors opened an hour and a half before puck drop. 14-year old girls holding "Marry me Patrick Kane" signs were replaced by men in their 30's and 40's wearing Roenick and Daze sweaters. The anticipation could be felt long before the game got underway. Every seat was filled before the lights even went down, and one of the loudest "Let's go Hawks" chants I've ever heard echoed throughout the arena during the intro video. During the National Anthem, I knew I was yelling, but I could barely hear it or realize it, if that makes sense. My voice was seemingly swallowed in a wall of sound.
The game itself had its ups and downs, but had one of the best endings in Blackhawks history. Trailing 2-1 late in the game, Havlat scored to tie things up at 2. During the ensuing TV timeout, the entire crowd stood and went nuts for the entire five minutes, without any cheesy messages on the scoreboard telling us to do so. At that moment, you just knew this was the Blackhawks' game to win.
Sure enough, twelve seconds into overtime, Dave Bolland stole a pass in the neutral zone and set up Havlat for his second goal of the game and the game winner. Towels waived, strangers hugged and exchanged high-fives, and the 2009 playoff run was underway.
1.) Monday, May 11th, 2009 vs. Vancouver: Kane's hat trick lifts Hawks to series win
I'm open to opinions about this list, but I'm not sure anyone in their right mind would argue with this one. The Hawks had an opportunity to close the series out at home, and they weren't going to be denied.
The game went back and forth, as the Hawks led 3-1, then trailed 4-3, then trailed 5-4 in the 3rd period before finally making their run. Fittingly, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane provided the scoring necessary to pull away from the Canucks in the 3rd period. Kane tied it on a wrap-around, Toews put one past Luongo for the lead, then Kane added his 3rd goal of the game on a beautiful back-hander to win the game 7-5. Anyone in attendance that night would say it was one of, if not the best sporting event they've ever been to.
I hope everyone enjoys reminiscing as we gear up for another exciting postseason.