Chicago Blackhawks center Michael Frolik (67), of the Czech Republic, scores a penalty shot goal against the Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard (35) during the third period in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs in Detroit, Monday, May 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) ORG XMIT: MIPS119
Updated: August 27, 2013 2:14AM
They were skilled up front, but they weren’t tough enough. They were talented on the blue line, but they weren’t deep enough. They were experienced, but they didn’t have a playoff-proven goaltender.
The Blackhawks were supposed to be pretty good this season. They weren’t supposed to be champions of historic proportions. But that’s how it all shook out in a dizzying season that revealed not only the skill, talent and experience of this group, but their depth, character and toughness.
There were countless memorable moments in the Hawks’ 2013 season. But here are the five defining ones.
1 Feb. 5
at San Jose
Despite having a backup goalie who went 17-1, the Hawks never had a legitimate goaltender controversy this season. Corey Crawford simply never gave anyone a reason to take the job from him. That almost changed Feb. 5. When Michal Handzus, of all people, beat Crawford on a soft goal midway through the first period — the third goal Crawford gave up in the period — Joel Quenneville would have been well within his rights to yank his goalie, especially considering Ray Emery was coming off the performance of a lifetime, a 48-save masterpiece at Calgary.
But Quenneville showed faith in Crawford — who entered the season with the confidence of himself and his teammates but not necessarily the fan base or Chicago media — and was rewarded. Crawford shut the door the rest of the way, the Hawks won 5-3 and The Streak was just getting started. Who knows how things would have changed, and how Crawford’s confidence would have been hurt, had he been benched and a full-blown goalie controversy had blown up.
2 March 3
In the most exciting game of the regular season, the Hawks’ record-setting point streak nearly came to an end at the hands of their oldest rivals. But in a harbinger of things to come in the playoffs, the Hawks snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a stunning — and thrilling — comeback at Joe Louis Arena. Down 1-0 in a game that featured end-to-end scoring chances, Patrick Kane scored a power-play goal with 2:02 left in regulation. Kane also scored the lone goal of the shootout with a spectacular display of stickhandling in front of Jimmy Howard, pushing the Hawks’ record to 19-0-3.
The Sunday afternoon victory came before a huge national audience and was followed soon after by a Sports Illustrated cover proclaiming the Hawks as the team that saved hockey from itself after the lockout.
3 May 27
When Joakim Andersson’s seemingly harmless wrist shot knuckled past Corey Crawford in the second period of Game 6, it looked like everything that had taken place in the previous four months — The Streak, the President’s Trophy, Crawford’s superb season — was going to be undone. The Hawks were suddenly on the brink of elimination, down 3-2 in the series and 2-1 in the game. But while the old Crawford might have sulked, the new Crawford soared. He shut down the Red Wings the rest of the way, and the Hawks scored three goals in the first 10 minutes of the third period — Handzus’ huge equalizer in the first minute, Bryan Bickell’s go-ahead wrister and Michael Frolik’s filthy penalty shot — to even the series and send it back to Chicago for the decisive Game 7.
Brent Seabrook won it in overtime — after Niklas Hjalmarsson’s apparent game-winner was waved off because of a penalty behind the play — but without that huge third period by the Hawks’ offense and Crawford, the season (and any talk of a budding dynasty) would have ended right there in Joe Louis Arena.
4 June 6
at Los Angeles (Game 4)
Patrick Kane hadn’t scored in seven games. He hadn’t been doing much of anything, really. It got so bad, he resorted to watching old clips of his previous playoff goals — including the Stanley Cup-winner in 2010 at Philadelphia — with his dad to remind himself that the puck indeed could go in the net and that he wasn’t, in his words, suddenly “a bad player.” Kane needed a spark, and he got it when Joel Quenneville resorted to his nuclear option — putting Kane and Jonathan Toews on the same line, this time with big Bryan Bickell at left wing.
Just like that, Kane was revitalized. He was seemingly all over the ice, scoring the game-tying goal in Game 4 that led to a huge 3-2 victory. In Game 5, he had maybe the best individual performance of his career, scoring three goals, including the series-winner in double overtime. The line was broken up for the start of the Stanley Cup Final, largely because of Bickell’s sprained knee. But after another offensive lull through three games, the line was reunited. The Hawks went on to win the Cup, and Kane went on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
5 June 24
Writers were filing game stories. Fans were making flight reservations. Even some of the Hawks admitted they were resigned to play a Game 7. But in perhaps the wildest ending to a Stanley Cup Final in NHL history, Bickell and Dave Bolland scored 17 seconds apart in the final 90 seconds of the game, stunning the Bruins, stunning the hockey world, even stunning themselves.
There have been 15 Stanley Cups won in overtime, but never had their been one like this — in which a loss became a win in a flash. Given the Hawks’ unprecedented start to the season and their uncanny resilience all year, it was a fittingly remarkable end to a remarkable run.