There’s nowhere left for the Blackhawks to go this season. They’ve been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs after months of sputtering, and now the only number that really matters is the team’s percentage of the odds to land the No. 1 pick.
What a change that is from the past nine seasons, where the Blackhawks were the NHL’s darlings. The team made the playoffs all those years, and typically without much drama. Those were often great teams that proved it on the ice. They still have three Stanley Cups to wave at you as proof.
It’s clear now that the Blackhawks are entering a new era. The roster that lost the clinching elimination game to the Avalanche Tuesday night looked nothing like the one that bottled the Lightning in 2015. This team’s future lies in the likes of Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat as much as the old guard at this point.
But a run as good as the one that Chicago hockey just experienced won’t be forgotten. In honor of the end of an incredible nine years, here are the nine best moments from them.
Kane ends the 49-year Cup drought
The goal that started it all. There’s an alternate universe out there where Patrick Kane doesn’t slip that puck by Michael Leighton, the Hawks never make it back to the Stanley Cup Final, and we’re all still wondering when another banner will be raised at the United Center.
Thankfully it’s not this universe.
The celebration in the heat of the moment is always thrilling, but the fact that Chicagoans have held three Stanley Cup parades in the last decade is amazing. From people climbing trees and light poles to Corey Crawford dropping f-bombs amid a sea of fans at Grant Park, the parades have provided some of the most fun moments.
They were basically just big parties, and everyone in Chicago was invited.
The post-lockout point streak
It will be a long time before the Blackhawks have a team as good as the one they iced for the 2013 season. Coming out of a lockout for a shortened 48-game campaign, the Hawks decimated the field with a 21-0-3 record out of the gate en route to a ridiculous 36-7-5 season. Yes, it wasn’t a full 82-game season, but it’s still a stunning level of domination that set the stage for the team’s second Stanley Cup of the era.
The 2013 Blackhawks finished first in goals allowed, second in goals scored, second in save percentage, fourth in 5-on-5 Corsi and first in 5-on-5 goal differential. They didn’t lose a game in regulation until March 8. It’s one of the great regular season runs of all-time.
Seabrook eliminates the Red Wings
For a moment, remember when nobody cared about Brent Seabrook’s contract and he was merely a Chicago sports legend. This play goes down in the annals of Hawks history as one of the all-time most thrilling goals.
The Blackhawks trailed 3-1 in the series against the rival Red Wings, who would soon move to the Eastern Conference. In their one last showdown, Seabrook put it away on home ice to send the Hawks to the Western Conference Final.
Does this really need any explanation? Simply the greatest sequence in Blackhawks history. Maybe hockey history. Maybe even history, in general.
The Ducks series
This was the series where a lot of people probably realized just how brilliant Joel Quenneville could be. He turned up his line matching to overdrive against Bruce Boudreau’s Ducks, and it worked brilliantly as the Blackhawks rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to win the West.
The way the Hawks won these games was just amazing. Game 2 was a triple overtime thriller, one of the longest games in Stanley Cup Playoff history. Game 4 went to double overtime. And then with their backs against the wall, the team delivered 5-2 and 5-3 victories in Games 6 and 7, respectively, after it seemed like the Ducks just might’ve taken hold of the series.
Quenneville was instrumental there, as were Duncan Keith and the line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Keith averaged 33 minutes per game in the series. Saad, Toews, and Hossa combined for all four goals to power the Hawks to a 4-0 lead in Game 7. Good ol’ days.
Finally winning a Cup at home
The Blackhawks won the 2010 and 2013 Stanley Cups on the road, so they never got to experience the joy of celebrating the ultimate achievement in front of their own fans. Against the Lightning in 2015, they made sure not to waste their chance in Game 6 at the United Center with a 2-0 shutout.
The final moments, the crowd starting to count down the seconds as it realizes what’s about to happen, are spine-tingling.
The Kane-Panarin connection
We thought we had already seen what Kane was capable of, then the Blackhawks managed to sign a young winger out of Russia named Artemi Panarin. The chemistry they’d build on the ice would create one of the most amazing lines in the NHL.
The Blackhawks ultimately split up Kane and Panarin after two seasons with a trade, but oh, what a two seasons they were. In 2015-16, Kane won the Hart Trophy and Panarin won the Calder Trophy as the league’s MVP and top rookie, respectively. Kane also posted a 26-game point streak. The next year, they combined for 65 goals and over 160 points.
The decision to move Panarin in a deal for Saad and Anton Forsberg has been heavily scrutinized because of how good he was with Kane. Both players are still producing away from each other, but it was special watching them shred defenses apart for two years.
Chicago hockey, transformed
Remember what being a hockey fan was like in Chicago before this now-concluded playoff run? A lot of people don’t because it’s what transformed the Blackhawks from a struggling laughing stock into a marquee franchise. The past decade felt like a statement that greatness was now the expectation, and it would be the result, too.
That’s the best moment of the past nine years: The one where you realize just how special this all was. How the franchise has transformed to become better equipped for success in the future. And while this season has been a bummer, there’s little doubt it’s all been worth it.