Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: The drought ends after 49 years

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Hawk Talk: The drought ends after 49 years

Saturday, June 12, 2010
10:28 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

It was February 7, 1973. My first Blackhawks game. I cant remember whether it was a Christmas present or an early birthday present, but my dad came home from work downtown to the near southwest suburbs, picked up this 9-year-old and headed back downtown with me to Chicago Stadium.

Up to the second balcony. A seat was, what four bucks back then? Yes, I did get beer spilled on me at some point and came home smelling of that and cigarette smoke. I also remember it was a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres in which I yelled out a penalty before the ref blew his whistle for a Sabre using his hand to cover the puck as it trickled towards the net. Ill have to go back and look over the tattered program thats still saved in a box somewhere, along with newspaper clippings for other details. I remember Rick Martin was on the cover. Not Pit. Rick. But that was about all the disappointment I had that night, falling in love with the building, the noise, the sport, and the team.

Id missed Bobby Hull by one season, but all the other greats from that era were right in front of me. Esposito. Mikita. Pappin. Martin. Dennis Hull. Koroll. White. Stapleton. Magnuson. I remember a few short months later being on the verge of tears listening to Lloyd Petit describe them falling in Game 6 to Montreal in the Stanley Cup Final.

Fast forward 37 years!

Turns out a kid from Buffalo, born almost 16 years after my first Hawks game, ends up scoring the goal that finally lets me see them win a Cup. I never asked Patrick Kane, but Id guess he was probably on the verge of tears at age 10 watching his beloved Sabres lose in Game 6 to Dallas in the Cup Final. I wonder if Kane ever holds Brett Hulls heart-breaking controversial goal against Bobby when he deals with The Golden Jet here. By now, probably not, if ever. Kanes was in overtime Wednesday night in Philly. Hulls in triple-overtime.

Kanes goal will be remembered, and it was the finishing touch. But hed be the first to tell you it wasnt just him and there were too many moments and contributors along this glorious ride the past two months. Heck, the past 9-12 months. Go up and down the roster, and every one of those players did something along the way big or small that helped them get to that moment Wednesday night, just after 10 oclock.

Its truly been a privilege to have gone along with them albeit from a reporters distance on that ride. Hockey players are by far the easiest professional athletes to deal with, and this group made it real easy to root for them, while trying to balance some journalistic integrity. Witnessing them go through that grind some as early as last August with Olympic orientation, to Helsinki, through Vancouver, then re-charging after 82 contests for 22 more pressure-packed games, one couldnt help but feel happy for them in that loud locker room Wednesday night, into Thursday morning. And again, I smelled like beer (champagne, too) and smoke (cigars this time) when the night was done.

Like many of you who grew up with the franchise and followed it through thick and thin, you may have experienced the same sensation I did Friday - whether you were at the rally or watching on television. It was almost 90 degrees outside, but there were moments I looked down at my arms, and the hairs were standing up.

With this celebration comes realization. John Madden admitted Saturday there had been times over the previous two and a half days that the players talked of being in their final moments together as a team. Not everyone can come back, courtesy of the salary cap. For those who might still be bitter about what looms ahead and point fingers over whos to blame for last summers contract issues, lets look at it this way: Do you really think the organization wouldve purposefully put itself in the situation it faces right now with all the talent theyd love to keep around longer than they may be able to? No, we didnt know a year ago whether this would actually become a championship team. But if it didnt happen this year, it was a safe bet theyd want to keep as much of it as they could together for another run. Lets see how Stan Bowman and company are able to maneuver the cap and the personnel over the next couple of months. He admitted Saturday hes thought about it a lot because hes known its coming. Its just a guess on my part, but things may very well happen quickly, especially with the draft just two weeks away. A veteran or two could conceivably be moved to teams looking for immediate help in exchange for early-round picks that help the cap now, and supply talent that can be NHL-ready in a couple of years. This teams locked-in nucleus will still be young. Plus, the postseason pedigree that Kane, Toews, Keith, Niemi, Seabrook etc. gained over the past two months should keep this team contending, no matter whos around them. Yes, the depth of this roster was unmatched and was a huge factor in its ultimate success. But all you have to do is look around this years playoffs to see its not always the deepest, most talented teams that survive deep into the postseason. Most importantly, they - and everyone else who comes back - have done it, and will have a greater understanding of what it takes to do it again. Guarantees? Nope. Just ask Sidney Crosby after he figured it out a year ago before his Pens were knocked out in the second round last month by a much thinner team on paper. But its certainly better to have done it already than not. And thats the important thing moving forward. Imagine how the organization and fans wouldve felt if theyd fallen short, with all the work ahead looming? What also cannot be underestimated is how well these players get treated by management, and all you fans. Other players around the league notice that. When theyre weighing offers, dont think that doesnt factor in. The same goes for the current Hawks wholl be able to listen to other teams. The other side of that is - they have the ring, now they want the money.

But while we wait for whats unknown right now, lets keep enjoying what this teams already given us. That wait was way too long not to enjoy it.

Five takeaways from Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

We're going to be a little honest. The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs could've been better.

It didn't help that the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks swept their series', wiping out those West Coast games for the last week and a half. There were also only five overtime games, four of which came in the Washington-Columbus series, compared to 18 in the first round last season.

But having said all that, we might be in for one of the most entertaining second rounds in recent memory.

Before we get to that, here are five takeaways from Round 1:

1. Artemi Panarin is a playoff performer.

We're not going to rehash whether the Blackhawks made a mistake in trading away one of the best offensive players in the league.

Instead, let's talk about how the Bread Man proved to skeptics that he's a superstar in his own right, yes, even without Patrick Kane.

It was fair to wonder whether Panarin's production would be on par with what it was in his first two seasons in Chicago, because it was also fair to do the same for Kane, who put up his best point totals in each of those two seasons as well playing alongside Panarin — 106 points in 2015-16 and 89 in 2016-17, respectively.

But the idea that Kane made Panarin was always a lazy narrative, because they both benefited from each other. In fact, Panarin set a Blue Jackets record by registering a 82 points in a single season without Kane, proving he could thrive in a role where he was "The Guy."

Panarin finished the regular season with five straight multi-point games, and opened the playoffs with seven points (two goals, five assists) in three games, including the overtime winner in Game 1. He went pointless in the final three games, but he admitted after the Blue Jackets were eliminated that a knee injury sustained early in Game 5 played a role in his effectiveness — or lack thereof — over the final two contests. That's not an excuse, just a fact.

He now has 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 17 postseason games for his career, which is nearly a point-per-game average. Panarin is a big-game player, and anybody that thinks otherwise is reading too much into the Blackhawks' first-round sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators last season, where every single member struggled.

2. Do the Penguins have what it takes to three-peat?

The Penguins became the first team in the salary cap era to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. Now they can become the first to make it three in a row, and there's a realistic chance of that happening after they became the sixth team in NHL history to win nine straight playoff series following their first-round win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

There's one major caveat, as there is to almost anything: Can they stay healthy?

Evgeni Malkin will miss Game 1 against the Washington Capitals with an apparent leg injury, and Carl Hagelin has already been ruled out for the first two games.

That's a huge factor in all this, because the Penguins still have three more rounds to go if they want to make history and would need to do it with their second-best player clearly not at 100 percent and probably won't be for the rest of the playoffs.

If there's a year the Capitals can finally slay the dragon having lost nine of their past 10 playoff series against Pittsburgh, it's this one. They've got home-ice advantage, they're healthy, playing well in all phases and don't have the expectations that have seemed to weigh on their minds in the past.

3. Vegas, baby.

Has there been a more fun bandwagon to be a part of than the Golden Knights' during their inaugural season? They racked up 109 points, won the Pacific Division and swept the Los Angeles Kings when many perceived that to be a coin flip.

Marc-Andre Fleury was ridiculous, recording a 0.65 goals against average, .977 save percentage and two shutouts in four games against the Kings. Vegas as a team allowed only three goals and scored seven, with each of those seven goals coming from a different player.

It's been an incredible story.

The next stop will be against the San Jose Sharks, which certainly won't be a cakewalk. Expect that to be an evenly-matched series between two teams that aren't satisfied with how far they've come already, especially the Golden Knights. They want to make history by winning a Stanley Cup in Year 1 of existence.

Would it surprise anyone at this point?

4. Boston-Toronto lives up to the hype.

The script was set up perfectly.

Five years after the Maple Leafs overcame a 3-1 series deficit but collapsed in Game 7 at TD Garden by squandering a three-goal lead in the third period, the opportunity to rewrite history was right in front of them.

The Maple Leafs again fell behind 3-1, rallied back to win two straight, had three separate one-goal leads in Game 7 at TD Garden but couldn't seal the deal. It also could've served as a healing moment for the city of Toronto, which was hit with tragedy when a van drove onto a sidewalk and killed 10 people and injured 15 others, the same way Boston came together following the marathon bombings in 2013.

Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, destiny did not prevail and they're still seeking a first-round series win in the salary cap era.

It was as riveting a Game 7 as you'll see, and the hockey gods rewarded fans after a dull first round. But...

5. Get ready for Round 2.

Nashville vs. Winnipeg. Vegas vs. San Jose. Tampa Bay vs. Boston. Washington vs. Pittsburgh.

Close your eyes and pick a series and that could be the most entertaining of the second round. Each of them have the potential to be great.

It's the first time in NHL history the final eight teams standings compiled at least 100 points in the regular season, meaning it truly is the best of the best that's left. So enjoy it.

And good luck with your predictions, because going 0-for-4 looks more likely than 4-for-4.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Attempting to rebuild Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup contender

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Attempting to rebuild Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup contender

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish joins Pat Boyle to answer your mailbag questions. Among the questions they tackle: What was your favorite moment from the Blackhawks’ past season and were you surprised that Joel Quenneville didn’t make any changes to his coaching staff? 

They also discuss re-signing Vinnie Hinostroza, backup goalie options for Corey Crawford and who do they like in the Jets-Predators second-round series?

Plus, Burish looks at the Penguins roster and sees some similarities to the Blackhawks’ situation and attempts to rebuild a Stanley Cup contender.

Listen to the full podcast right here: