When the Chicago Blackhawks take the puck drop to start off their Stanley Cup final series against Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night, they’ll be vying not just to be crowned 2015 champions. They’ll be brushing up against history as well.
The Blackhawks’ return to the Stanley Cup final – achieved after a stunning 5-3 Game 7 win at Anaheim’s Honda Center on Saturday night – makes it the third time they will be fighting for hockey’s holy grail in the last six seasons. On the other two occasions – in 2010 and 2013 – they went all the way, bringing the cup back to a Chicago franchise that had not seen a conference championship since 1992 and had last won the Stanley Cup in 1961.
Another win this year – and they still face a tough series against Tampa Bay to get there – would make the Blackhawks the only team in hockey to have won the Stanley Cup three times since 2000, and the question of their rightful place in hockey history will likely dominate the discussion.
Indeed, according to Corey Spina of the Hockey Writers, the Blackhawks – win or lose this final – are already a dynasty. He makes his point by pointing out the Blackhawks Western Conference record as well.
“This is a team that has gone to, at least, the Western Conference Finals in five of the last seven years. They have now gone to the Stanley Cup Finals in three of the last six years, and have the potential of winning three Stanley Cups in three tries. They have some of the best players of this generation, and one of the winningest coaches in NHL history in Joel Quenneville.”
The Blackhawks’ achievements take on even more significance considering that they have had to build under the restrictive spending conditions of the NHL salary cap, something that hockey dynasties of the past – the 1980s Islanders or Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers – did not have to contend with.
According to Mark Potash of The Chicago Suntimes, if the salary cap’s main purpose is to ensure competitive balance in the league – hence making it difficult for a few dominant teams – the Blackhawks could be on the cusp of something truly remarkable.
“If (NHL Commissioner Gary) Bettman’s vision of the NHL in the salary-cap era proves true, what the Hawks are doing could prove to be more special than we know. Even the recent contenders are struggling to keep up. The Bruins, who won the Cup in 2011 and lost to the Hawks in the Final in 2013, did not even make the playoffs this year.”
The Ottawa Sun puts the Blackhawks’ success down to smart recruitment under general manager Stan Bowman, who has managed to keep the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, David Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Marian Hossa together on the roster.
Those players will have to step it up again to cement the Blackhawks place in hockey pantheon and claim their place among the legends of the game.
[Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images]