Did you ever think you’d live to see the day when one of your most bitter enemies, a Detroit Red Wings fan, would say something positive about your beloved Blackhawks? I mean, hockey fanatics on this side of Lake Michigan have been razzing you unmercifully for at least two decades, and Red Wings fans are universally recognized as the most annoying (READ: The biggest @$$holes) in all Hockeydom, right?
In the interest of truth and fairness, and to show that not ALL Red Wings fans are total @$$holes, I give a shout-out to the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Well done, gentlemen. I hope you enjoy your achievement for a long time to come because you’ve earned it. You faced some brutally tough competition in the Western Conference. You faced criticism from naysayers who believed your team would fold under pressure to teams with more playoff experience. You faced a team that was considered by many to be the team of destiny after squeaking into the playoffs after a last-minute shootout, then going on to dispatch the heavily favored Boston Bruins after being down three games to none. You didn’t back down, and as a result you’re sitting pretty at the top of the NHL. Bravo!
Hockey fans in the Motor City saw what the future held for the Blackhawks last season in the Western Conference Finals. Even though the Red Wings won that series in five games, we knew that the Blackhawks would soon become a force to be reckoned with. When Chicago acquired two key players out of the Red Wings roster, namely Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky, we were concerned (more like scared) of what the Blackhawks would look like this season.
When all is said and done, however, the two Red Wings turned Blackhawks didn’t really make a difference in these playoffs. Sure, Kopecky played well and made a good contribution, but he wasn’t a standout by any stretch of the imagination. As for Hossa – well, he was his usual playoff self. At times he looked good, but he also made too many should-have-known-better mistakes that proved to be costly. And again, for the third straight playoff season, Hossa was quiet on the scoreboard and in the point column. No, the Stanley Cup was not won by lucrative picks from one of the choicest rosters in the NHL…
It was won by a young team captain who took the reins of leadership and steered his team to victory, netting 29 playoff points along the way (second only to Danny Briere) and earning the Conn Smythe trophy – all the while demonstrating that he had more composure, more resilience, and yes, much more CLASS than the young team captain who hoisted the Stanley Cup last year.
It was won by a #1 draft pick who proved his worthiness as a top pick in spades by playing tough, moving fast, coming up big on both sides of the ice, and scoring key goals; the most notable being the one that had better be ESPN’s top game-making play of the week, if not the year – the Cup-winner; a bad-angle sniper shot that Steve Yzerman would have been proud of.
It was won by an assistant team captain that personified his last name by executing with precision, keeping his focus, and always seeming to be in the right place at the right time, doing exactly what had to be done, to give the Blackhawks a boost when they needed it.
It was won by the other assistant team captain, a guy who sacrificed himself on defense and paid the price but barely even broke stride and kept on blocking, scrapping, and making big contributions on offense all the way down the stretch.
It was won by a 6-foot-4, 250+ pound forward; Second City’s answer to Johan “The Mule” Franzen, throwing his weight around in front of the net and on the boards, yet deftly handling the puck and finding ways to get it in the net.
It was won by one of the biggest surprises of this season’s Stanley Cup playoffs; a rookie goaltender who sure as hell didn’t play like a rookie. He stood his ground. He flashed the leather and snagged pucks out of the air that he could barely see coming through the constant screen of forwards standing in front of him. He blocked shots and quickly covered the rebounds. He refused to be intimidated, even when facing some of the NHL’s most deadly shooters in breakaway situations where he was the only thing standing between the opposing team and a goal. He did what every good net-minder is expected to do by keeping his team in the game, and he did a lot more.
It was won by largely unsung heroes like Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer, Adam Burish, Ben Eager, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Andrew Ladd, John Madden, Brent Seabrook, Brent Sopel, and Kris Versteeg; who provided the foundation for your offensive guns, killed penalties, jammed up the neutral zone, got pucks in deep then drove in hard to fish them out, and generally frustrated the crap out of the other teams.
If no one else in Hockeytown will say it, I will – your team was better than ours. Despite a bit of a shaky start, the Blackhawks brought their A-game to the playoffs and played hungry. By contrast, our Red Wings delivered a very lackluster, flat-footed performance in the playoffs. Sorry, but the injury excuse doesn’t fly. We had our star players back in the lineup and healthy, but instead of playing like they had a purpose, there was an air of “Oh, we’ve been here before; this is old hat.” The Wings barely edged out a Phoenix Coyotes team they should have ground into the ice and then lost to a San Jose Sharks team they should have taken apart.
What would have happened if the Wings had beaten the Sharks and faced your hometown Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals? As much as I support my home team, I believe the Blackhawks would have sent the Wings packing. Your team’s offense was better this season. Ditto that for your team’s defense. And our respective goaltenders? Comparing Jimmy Howard to Antti Niemi is like comparing a Ford Mustang to a Lamborghini Diablo.
So live it up, Blackhawks fans – your almost-five-decade Stanley Cup drought is over. Throw a party. Dance in the streets. Cheer your team at the victory parade. Now YOU get to thumb your noses at the rest of the NHL fans; especially those pesky supporters of the red and white winged wheel that are hated everywhere except in their home state. I only ask that the next time you start on a tirade against Red Wings fans, remember there is at least one who is not so blindly devoted to his home team that he can’t tell it like it is.