I'm writing this now before the Cup is hoisted and my views are completely blurred by the outcome.
I can't thank this Blackhawks team enough for taking me on one of the most incredible joy rides a sports fan/broadcaster could ever experience.
This team reminded me why I loved playing this sport as a kid and why I continue to believe that its postseason is the most difficult and drama-filled in all of professional sports.
It started with a text from by boss at 5:40 am on Sunday, Jan. 6, "The NHL lockout is over, how quickly can you get to work?"
I remember mumbling to myself, "Only the NHL would resolve its labor dispute in the middle of the night, on a Sunday."
Like most fans, I was a little jaded by the work stoppage. Not to mention the Blackhawks, who were first-round casualties the last two seasons. Let's just say my commitment to the Indian was not at a level that Denis Savard would have liked.
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I remember talking briefly to Patrick Kane before the start of the 48-game slate, wondering if he was ready for the off-ice maturation necessary to become the face of the franchise that the Blackhawks wanted him to be. Did his European sabbatical really help in this process? A few minutes into the Los Angeles opener, any doubt was erased as Kane snapped a puck into the back of the net from a bad angle and proceeded to play a huge role in the Blackhawks' great start.
Patrick Sharp said before the season started that playing 10 of their first 12 on the road would bring this team together. Not even Sharp could have dreamed this team would bond on and off the ice like it did and go on a NHL-record start of 24 straight games without a regulation loss. While the Blackhawks were bonding on the road, the same thing was going on with their fans back in Chicago. The Hawks were playing every other night and winning in just about every way possible.
Even when the team was dead tired and lifeless, Ray Emery turned in a superhuman effort in Calgary, lifting the Hawks to one of their most improbable regular season wins ever. I was hooked, all in, and I certainly wasn't alone. Fans went from not being sure if they were going to watch hockey, to record-breaking Blackhawks ratings on CSN every single night.
The lockout was a distant memory and even the four-letter network in Bristol put Blackhawks highlights on SportsCenter. Lebron James was tweeting at Kane and No. 88 was doing the same back at King James. We had the top two teams in different sports giving each other props. It was at this point that the target was placed on the back of the Indian Head sweater, and it was Stanley Cup or bust.
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The record start was done. The President’s trophy belonged to the Hawks. But it would all be considered a big tease unless the Blackhawks made a deep run in the playoffs.
The first round against Minnesota was hardly encouraging. The Hawks faced a second- and third-string goalie in the Wild series. A couple went to overtime and after taking care of Minnesota in five games, Joel Quenneville looked like the losing coach at the podium saying his team needs to raise their compete level.
The entire postseason changed when Detroit humbled the Hawks, 4-1, in Game 2 of their series. The Blackhawks went on to lose three straight for the first time this year. The team that had pulled in an entire city and, according to Sports Illustrated, was "the franchise that brought hockey back" was about to be labeled choke artists.
But that’s when this crazy ride really took an interesting turn. They came back against Detroit, eventually winning a thrilling Game 7 in overtime. As impressive as that was, I was even more impressed with their efforts in Game 4 versus Boston.
The funeral was being planned in Chicago after a lethargic performance in Game 3, but this resilient group turned in one of their most impressive offensive showings all season in Game 4 of the Final. They bailed out the guy, Corey Crawford, who had done the same to them countless times the past five months.
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This incredible ride is why sports are the best reality show going. I certainly hope this drive ends with ticker tape on Michigan Ave. later this week. With the finish line and “One Goal” so close, I just want to thank this team for a journey I’ll never forget.