One Goal: A Dream Almost Fulfilled
Have you ever wanted something so bad you could taste it? Like no matter what you do you can’t shake the thought? When you lay down at night, or when you take the dog for a walk. you always have that gnawing sensation in the pit of your stomach. Ladies and Gentleman welcome to the Chicago Blackhawks world.
At the start of the 2008-2009 season the Chicago Blackhawks unveiled their “One Goal” movement. What is this One Goal you ask? Its really quite simple, bring Lord Stanley’s Cup back to the Windy City. That goal however looked just out of the Hawks reach last season, after being defeated by the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals.
That loss would not be enough to stop the One Goal movement.
After an up and down off-season that saw the team dragged through mud after reports came out that they were late on sending in qualifying offers for restricted free agents. This led to the team having to sign the players to bigger deals and a grievance being filed against the team. That however was not the end of it. A few weeks after this incident happened the team announced it was parting ways with General Manager Dale Tallon, the man considered to be the architect of the current team. With Tallon out, the team was handed over to Assistant GM Stan Bowman, son of legendary coach Scotty Bowman.
It wasn’t all bad news for the team, as they would come to terms with three key free agents, with the big fish being Marian Hossa.
Hossa was apart of the Redwings team that beat the Hawks in the Conference Finals, and was considered to be one of the bigger free agents on the market. With Hossa on board it brought a veteran presence with Stanley Cup experience under his belt.
The Hawks did not stop there though, adding more veteran presence by signing John Madden and Tomas Kopecky. In Madden, a long time New Jersey Devil, the team got a veteran player with a Stanley Cup victory, and also a guy who the younger guys could turn to for advice. Tomas Kopecky was a teammate of Marian Hossa, and like Madden brought Stanley Cup finals experience to the table.
Entering the 2009-2010 season, the Chicago Blackhawks were poised to take another shot at the cup, and many experts agreed that this team had a very good chance at winning it all. As the season progressed though one thing stood out, the Chicago Blackhawks goal-tending situation was a big problem.
In net the Hawks had Crisobal Huet and Antti Niemi. Huet was the guaranteed starter with Niemi seeing situational work. Game after Game one thing became clear, Niemi was outplaying Huet in every facet of the game. It became so clear that with a few weeks left in the regular season, the team put their 5.6 million dollar goalie on the bench and gave Niemi the keys to the team.
With the team going strong entering the playoffs the same question popped up again..could the Hawks goaltender win them a series? It didn’t take long to find out, because Antti Niemi came to play. After having a shaky first playoff game, Niemi came back and shutout the Nashville Predators in Game 2. Even though Niemi showed signs of being a rookie in the playoffs, he had a knack for never letting a bad game get to him, always coming back strong the next game.
After disposing the Predators in 6 games, the Blackhawks set their sights on a familiar foe, the Vancouver Canucks. In the 2008-2009 playoffs the Blackhawks stunned just about everyone and beat the ‘Nucks in 6, with Dustin Byfuglien causing major headaches for Canuck G Roberto Louongo. Fast forward to the 2010 playoffs and it’s like deja vu. After dropping Game 1, the Hawks came back and played the same type of game they used last year and got into Louongo’s head. After winning taking two games at GM place the Hawks looked like the team everyone had picked to win it all. After dropping Game 5 at home, the Hawks skated back into GM place and beat the Canucks on home ice by a score of 5-1 to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
In the Western Conference Finals the Hawks faced the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks, who had finally laid their playoff demons to rest, had just knocked off the Detroit Redwings in 5 games and were looking to do the same to the Hawks. That plan did not work out so well for them.
In Game 1, the Hawks defeated San Jose 2-1 after Dustin Byfuglien scored the game winner in the third period. This win would set the pace for the rest of the series, as it looked the Sharks had lost their edge. In Game 2 this came true to life with the Hawks rattling off a 4-2 victory. With a 2-0 series lead and heading home the Blackhawks had everything going for them, except for one thing…they struggled at home. To combat this the team stayed in a hotel for Game 3 to simulate a road game..it worked. The Hawks matched the Sharks early energy and weathered the storm. After losing the lead late thanks a Patrick Marleau goal, they Hawks turned to the big man once again in Overtime. In the OT period David Bolland won a board battle and found Byfuglien in the middle of the ice to send the United Center crowd home happy. In Game 4 the Hawks found themselves down 2-0 early, but battled back to tie it up in the 2nd period. In the third period, Antti Niemi answered all the question’s that were asked before the playoff’s started…could he win a series? After playing out of his mind in Games 1 and 3, Niemi stepped up his game one more time, weathering a barrage a shots in the third period. With the Goalie standing on his head, the Hawks needed someone to put the dagger in the heart of San Jose, and once again they called on Big Buff. This time the big man would not use a slap shot or a wrist shot to beat the Sharks, no this time he used his best assest..his body. Parking himself in front of goalie Evgeni Nabokov, Byfuglien would delfect a shot from the point passed Nabokov for the game winner.
It had taken 19 years, but the Chicago Blackhawks were back in the Stanley Cup. With the Philadelphia Flyers standing in the way, the Hawks are 4 wins away from making One Goal a reality.