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The rise and fall of the Blackhawks’ dynasty

Chicago hockey fans spent the last 10 years on edge.

Marian Hossa kisses the Stanley Cup after winning the title in 2015.
Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo

In Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, Patrick Kane fired a shot that slipped under the pads of Flyers goalie Michael Leighton in overtime.

For a while, few knew where the puck ended up, but Kane did. The Blackhawks winger celebrated by throwing his gloves in the air and leaping across the ice, while others stood in confusion waiting for the referees to confirm the Stanley Cup-clinching goal.

Once they did, celebration ensued. The Hawks had won their first Stanley Cup in nearly 50 years.

That was the start of something special. Over the next six years, the Hawks won two more Stanley Cups and made four Western Conference Final appearances.

The Hawks were a dynasty.

It was thrilling to watch. Led by Kane and Jonathan Toews, the Hawks were stacked with astonishing talent filled with exuberant energy. But in an instant, all the glory came to a screeching end.

Three championships is certainly suitable enough for this generation of fans, right? (Narrator’s voice: It’s not.)

The most surprising part of the Hawks’ demise was that they didn’t gradually regress back into normalcy. No, they fell off the steepest cliff imaginable and landed in the basement of the Central Division.

After a disappointing first-round exit in the 2016 playoffs, one season after their final Stanley Cup win of this decade, the Hawks were determined to redeem themselves during the 2016-17 campaign. By the end of the regular season, the Hawks, who were one of four teams to win at least 50 games that season, looked ready to make a deep playoff run.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, they choked in the first-round, scoring only three goals the entire series which resulted in a four-game sweep by the Predators.

Everyone was in dismay.

“Getting to this point and falling flat on our face as we did — don’t really have any words right now, or any explanation, or any good explanation, for what just happened,” Toews said after the final game. “But it’s not a good feeling, obviously.”

The Hawks never rebounded from that loss. And just like that, the championship window closed far sooner than anyone would have imagined.

The Hawks missed the playoffs the last two seasons. And in 2018, they fired Quenneville, the second-winningest coach in NHL history, 15 games into his 11th season with the franchise. He was succeeded by Jeremy Colliton, who had limited coaching experience.

So what happened?

Stan Bowman signed some of the core players, like Kane, Toews, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford and Brent Seabrook to long-term deals, which put the Hawks in a tough position when it came to staying within the salary cap. But what the Hawks general manager didn’t anticipate was his core aging and regressing as fast as it did, with the exception of Kane. Also, no one could’ve predicted Marian Hossa’s sudden absence and then retirement due to a skin condition or that Corey Crawford would miss significant time due to concussions.

Even though the second half of the decade was forgettable, the beginning was filled with instant-classic highlights, including Toews’ two goals in Game 7 of the 2015 Western Conference Final and the Hawks’ two goals in 17 seconds to win their 2013 title.

It was hard to appreciate what they accomplished in the heat of their playoff runs, Toews said. But as he reflects on how much of a wild ride the last 10 seasons have been, the captain feels humbled by the experiences.

“When you’re in the mix, you don’t really stop to smell the roses, because it all goes by really fast and you’re focused on your job,” Toews said. “It’s like as soon as we won the Cup, we were focusing on the next one pretty much. Definitely special years. You look back and you’re pretty fond and thankful for those memories. Pretty cool to think we were lucky enough to do that.”