ONE GOAL!: 'Serve up the calamari, and bring on the Kings!'
Thus spake Blackhawks radio announcer John Wiedemann late last night, as the United Center went wild.
Brent Seabrook's shot had just nicked Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall and flipped past goalie Jimmy Howard to end one of the most memorable games in the history of a great rivalry. Chicago 2, Detroit 1 in overtime.
The Hawks were going to the Conference Finals. The Red Wings were going home.
Actually, calamari is squid. Octopus is sushi. But who's going to quibble? For the first time in franchise history, the Blackhawks have come back from a three-games-to-one deficit and won a series. They'll face the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final starting this Saturday afternoon.
The Red Wings started life as the Chicago Shamrocks of the American Hockey Association. Owner James Norris bought the rights to a second Chicago NHL team, but the league disallowed the move, offering the recently vacated Detroit franchise to Norris instead on the condition that he dissolve the Shamrocks. He accepted, took his best players with him, and renamed the club the Red Wings. Ever since, the Wings and the Blackhawks have shared a division- and one of the great rivalries in hockey.
Sadly, next year the Wings will be in the Eastern Conference. The only way for the two teams to meet again in the playoffs would be in the Stanley Cup Finals. But on the positive side, wouldn't that be great? I well remember the last time it happened: back in 1961, when the Hawks won their first Stanley Cup of my lifetime.
Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder. The next time it happens, it will be all the sweeter for the wait.
The game could have ended in much uglier fashion. With the score tied 1-1 in the closing two minutes of regulartion, Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmersson beat Howard with what appeared to be the game-winning goal. The UC erupted. But even as Hjalmersson's bullet was making its way past Howard and into the Detroit net, the Wings' Kyle Quincy knocked the Hawks' Brandon Saad literally over the boards. Saad crawled back onto the ice- whereupon Quincy knocked him down again, and sat on him.
At no time did Saad appear to retaliate. But somehow, trailing referee Stephen Walcom decided to penalize both men for roughing- and the goal was waved off!
I thought Hawks' radio color man Troy Murray was going to have a stroke. Coach Joel Quenville stood on the bench as the players headed to the locker rooms after the period ended, awaiting an explanation of a bizarre call that happened half a rink away from the action and seemed to serve no other purpose than to reward Quincy's delinquent behavior. None came.The cheers turned to boos- and if it had been Detroit rather than the Hawks who had scored in overtime to win the game and the series, I might have feared for Walcom's safety!
But at 3:35 of overtime, it was the Hawks' Seabrook who lit the red light, breaking over the blue line and beating Howard for the winner. Now the Hawks join the other three teams to have won the Stanley Cup in the past four years- the Kings, the Bruins, and the Penguins- for what ought to be one of the most exciting Junes in NHL history.
Back when the lockout ended, people worried that a 47-game season would be a travesty. But nobody can doubt that the four teams still standing at this point are the four teams that should be.
With all respect to franchises like Anaheim, St. Louis, San Jose, and- yes- Detroit, from here on out it will be the best four teams in the NHL that will be competing for Lord Stanley's mug.
Below, one of the most civilized traditions in professional sports.