After a lengthy lockout, the Chicago Blackhawks gave the National Hockey League a season that it did not deserve. While they weren’t the only ones bringing the brilliance to the ice every night, they brought the headlines throughout the year in a season that culminated in them taking home the Stanley Cup for the fifth time in franchise history.
This was a team that had come into the 2013 year with plenty of questions. They were bounced out of the playoffs in the previous year in the first round for the second consecutive season. On top of that, the roster didn’t see much of anything in terms of change, aside from the addition of a couple of veterans on the cheap, including Michal Handzus (at the trade deadline) and Michal Rozsival.
Shortened regular season or not, the Hawks were fantastic throughout the entire year. The Blackhawks began the season better than any team in league history had started a year. In their first 24 games of the regular season, they did not lose a single tilt in regulation, going 21-0-3 for the first half of the year.
Though they didn’t re-establish that dominance entirely in the second half of the year, they managed to maintain enough momentum to catapult them on to the President’s Trophy as the top team in the league, prompting plenty of concern in the Windy City about the “curse” that came with finishing with the league’s best record.
That curse didn’t appear to slow them down too much in the first round, as they quickly and somewhat easily dispatched of the Minnesota Wild. The second round would not prove to be so easy, as the Hawks went on to face elimination for the only time during these playoffs in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Everyone cheered for a Detroit Red Wings – Blackhawks series in the second round. Not only because they were the seven seed, but simply because a pair of classic rivals would make for a fantastic series. And they did not disappoint. Facing a 3-1 series deficit, the Hawks rattled off three wins in a row, thanks to a locker room speech from Jamal Mayers and a clutch overtime goal in Game 7 off the stick of Brent Seabrook.
That victory set up a matchup of the two last Western Conference teams to win the Cup, with the Hawks meeting the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals. Surprisingly, the Hawks were able to dispatch of the Kings in a similar way that they did the Wild. But they didn’t exactly go quietly. It took a Patrick Kane hat trick in Game 5, with the winner coming in a second overtime, to knock the Kings off of their defending champion throne.
As exciting as the matchup between the Hawks and the Wings was in that second round, the Stanley Cup Finals was one for the ages. An Original Six matchup against the Boston Bruins, it would have been nearly impossible to find a pair of teams so close in level of talent/drive/depth. Which explains how the two teams managed to remain tied or within a goal of each other for nearly 90 percent of the series.
As if the series wasn’t exciting enough, with the total time of the six games actually adding up to over seven games, given the fact that they played five overtimes total, we were also treated to a fantastic finish. Down 2-1 and looking like they’d be going back to Chicago for a Game 7, the Blackhawks rattled off a pair of goals in just 17 seconds to stun the Bruins and take the Cup back to Chicago for the second time in four years.
It was a magnificent season for the Blackhawks. It was one in which they were not only led by their stars, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp, among others, but saw Corey Crawford rise to an elite level, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. They got key contributions from savvy veterans like Handzus and Rozsival. Their depth, with names like Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell, came up big on numerous occasions.
What started as the greatest season in NHL history saw a fitting end on Monday night. The Blackhawks are your 2013 Stanley Cup Champions, and deserve every bit of it.