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When Blackhawks became underdogs no more

One playoff series cemented Chicago’s supremacy over one of its oldest and fiercest rivals.

Detroit Red Wings v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Seven

As part of SB Nation’s weeklong foray into all things related to sports underdogs, we elected to revisit the moment the Blackhawks shifted from underdogs to top dogs in their longest-standing rivalry.

It’s been referenced here before. It needs to come up again.

A few days before Christmas in 2005, the Blackhawks turned in one of the most excruciating regular season losses in franchise history.

Two goals in 32 seconds during the final minute of regulation erased a 2-0 lead against the hated Red Wings. A third Detroit goal was scored as overtime expired, the game-winner that was initially waved off, but then allowed following a video review.

It was the lowest of low points during a three-year stretch that saw the Blackhawks rack up 59 points in 2003-04, miss an entire season because of the lockout, then emerge with a whopping 65 points in 2005-06, the two lowest season outputs by a Blackhawks team since the NHL adopted an 82-game schedule in 1995.

And that’s what made the Blackhawks 2013 triumph over the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs so satisfying.

In a role reversal nearly 20 years in the making, it was Chicago dangling victory in front of Detroit before snatching it away. Like so many times in the late 1990s and early/mid 2000s, it was the Blackhawks falling behind early before discovering a gear the Red Wings could no longer match, resulting in the most cathartic of Blackhawks victories in franchise history.

Until that point, Chicago hadn’t slayed the dragon that had tormented them for so long. Sure, the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup win in 2010 to end a 49-year title drought was euphoric, but the opportunity to win it while dethroning the Red Wings never materialized after Detroit was eliminated by the Sharks in the second round. The Red Wings hung on to their glory days for a few more seasons, even winning a first-round series over the Coyotes in 2011, a feat the Blackhawks couldn’t manage in 2011 or 2012. The only marquee matchup between the fading Red Wings and surging Blackhawks came during the 2010 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field, which — of course — Detroit won.

Chicago needed to go through Detroit at some point to erase any doubts about which team had leapt ahead in the never-ending rivalry between the two teams — and two cities. It was every bit as necessary as the Michael Jordan-era Bulls finally dispatching of the Detroit Pistons’ “Bad Boy” teams in the 1991 Eastern Conference Final or the Cubs’ 2015 National League Division Series win over the St. Louis Cardinals in asserting dominance over a team that had been its biggest nuisance for what felt like an eternity.

The players who emerged in Games 5, 6 and 7 provided another source of poetic justice, because it wasn’t Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane carrying the team to victory. No, it was Chicago’s supporting cast who emerged, exactly the way Detroit used find contributions from previously anonymous sources to surge to victory. Andrew Shaw scored twice in Game 5. Michal Handzus tied Game 6 only 51 seconds into the third period, Bryan Bickell broke the deadlock at 5:48 and then Michal Frolik sealed it with the penalty shot that launched a thousand memes.

After a phantom penalty call did its best to ruin Chicago’s comeback in Game 7 ... well, we all know the story by now, don’t we? Dave Bolland crushed Gustav Nyquist on the boards. Brent Seabrook picked up the loose puck, skated into the zone and fired the dagger.

Go ahead. Watch it again.

The Blackhawks went on to win the Cup in 2013. Detroit, which was banished to the Eastern Conference after this defeat, hasn’t won a playoff series since.