Thursday, June 10, 2010
STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS!
Finally, the Chicago Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup! I can't believe I'm writing those words. Before the season started, a friend asked me "Do you think it's their year?" I quickly responded "No. Huet sucks." My first answer wasn't my final answer, though. Way back, early on in the season--I honestly can't remember when I first said it--I changed my mind and began to tell everyone that the Blackhawks would win the Stanley Cup. Although I'm not sure when I first said it, I think I know when I first started believing in the 2009-10 Blackhawks.
It was only five games into the season. The Blackhawks were facing off with a newly-created rival in Calgary. The Blackhawks quickly fell into a deep hole, as Cristobal Huet gave up 4 unanswered goals and Antti Niemi gave up another--all in the first period. Personally, I shut the TV off after the 3rd or 4th goal. My cell phone let me know that the Hawks gave up another in the first period before the Hawks scored a goal of their own, putting them down 5-1. I continued to ignore the game and carve pumpkins instead. However, after the 2nd period, my cell phone told me that the game was 5-4. At that point, I knew the Blackhawks had a real chance. I turned the game back on in time to watch them tie the game in the 3rd period, forcing overtime. Shortly into OT, Brent Seabrook made the comeback complete and gave the Blackhawks a 6-5 OT victory.
Ever since then, I believed the Blackhawks had something truly special this season. My belief was further solidified by an 8-game winning streak in November. This might have been about the time I started to proclaim that the Blackhawks were going to win the Stanley Cup. My brother told me that I was going to jinx the Hawks, to which I said that my words did not control the outcome of the world.
I continued to believe in the Hawks as they destroyed the Sharks 7-2 in the Tank and beating the then-NHL-leading Devils 5-1 on New Year's Eve. Then the Olympic break happened. The Blackhawks headed into the break on a four-game win streak. However, 3 of those wins were in shootouts. Following the break, the Blackhawks went 6-9 in the month of March, as they continually took leads and gave them right back. This is a problem that the Blackhawks had until the last 7 games of the season, where they went 6-1.
All of this had made me begin to doubt the Blackhawks. My fears were not eased when the Blackhawks lost their first playoff game at home. Then, after they tied the series at 1-1, they lost game 3. The Blackhawks proceeded to win 3 games in a row as they knocked off the pesky Predators.
Next up, the Hawks faced the Canucks. The two teams were quite familiar with each other, since the Blackhawks had eliminated them from the playoffs the year before. A lot was made of the Canucks' desire to avenge thier loss last year. I was convinced after game 1, where Antti Niemi was pulled after giving up 4 goals. However, the loss was a wake-up call to the Blackhawks, who won 3 games in a row after that, and clinched the series after losing only one other game in the series.
I was glad that the Blackhawks faced the Sharks in the Western Conference Finals, rather than the Red Wings. Though the Sharks were the higher seed, I felt that the Blackhawks were less intimidated by them, as they had won the season series against the Sharks 3-1. I felt that it was a more favorable match-up, but I never would have guessed the Blackhawks would have swept the series. The Blackhawks had been road warriors in the playoffs, but the Shark Tank (HP Pavilion) has been one of the toughest places to play the last two years. When the Blackhawks won the first two games in San Jose, I was fairly certain they would win the series, but I was sure they would drop at least one game at home, considering they had not been so good at home in the playoffs. In fact, the sweep made me nervous for the Finals.
The Flyers had made it to the Finals by beating teams they had no business beating and the Hawks' sweep might have made them over-confident and allowed them to overlook Philly. However, the Blackhawks came out and won the first 2 games of the series, both close contests. After game 2, I found it hard to sleep as I imagined the Blackhawks bringing home the Cup. In my mind, there was no way they could lose. However, the Hawks took me through yet another roller coaster ride as they lost 2 games in Philly. Game 5 would be the most important of the series. A loss at home for Chicago would give Philly the momentum to win the Cup at home. It was not to be, as the Hawks won decidedly, 7-4.
All day Wednesday, I had a feeling that it would be the day to remember. The Blackhawks were bound to win a road game at some point, right? And how could you underestimate their desire to take the Cup that night, rather than risk having to play a game 7. The Blackhawks took the first lead, then gave up 2 unanswered goals, then scored 2 unanswered goals, putting them in the lead 3-2 with only a few minutes left. It looked like the Blackhawks would be taking home the Cup after all. Then, they put me through the wringer again as they gave up another goal. Going into OT, I told my friend Nate that I felt scared, that the Blackhawks would have a hard time winning in OT in Philly.
"Kane walks by Kimmo Timonen. To the net! .... It's over! Patrick Kane has scored the goal!"
I sat there watching Kane skate off and celebrate, while the announcers said that the officials had not yet made a signal and the light had not yet gone off. NBC began showing the overhead replay, where I could not figure how it had not yet been called a goal. Soon enough the announcers were saying that the referee was indicating a goal. THEY DID IT!
The long season of hope and anguish has come to the best possible end. A championship, won in dramatic fashion by my favorite player. It's so perfect, no wonder I still can't believe it.