It’s June 10th, 2010. Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final is taking place between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers.
The final result will be an overtime win in Philadelphia. If the Flyers end up victorious, they’ll still have to win a Game 7 in Chicago.
It’s a 3-3 tie in the first OT, meaning this has been a moderate offensive explosion with some decent defense and goaltending squeezed in-between this hockey contest.
This is a huge game for Blackhawks fans, as their favorite hockey team has been a laughing stock in the Western Conference for most of the previous decade.
For the Flyers, they’re looking to bring back Stanley Cup glory to the City of Brotherly Love for the first since the 1970s.
To truly understand the importance of what happens next, we need to hit that left button on the VCR. In order words, we need to rewind.
The Blackhawks are an overtime goal away from cementing their legacy in NHL history. But for a franchise who used to not even televise its home games, this seemed like a pipe dream even five years ago.
Known for his severe cheapness, Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz decided to cancel all home broadcast agreements with network and cable television outlets in 1992. According to Wirtz and the Wirtz Corporation, home broadcasts were “unfair to the team’s season ticket holders.” And as crazy as this decision was by Wirtz, fan attendance increased during the mid 1990s. Incredibly, without normal home broadcasts and overall television brand awareness about the team, the Hawks averaged over 19,300 fans during the mid 1990s at the United Center
This is how it worked: WGN and other media outlets couldn’t broadcast the Blackhawks games at the United Center. But, if a national broadcasting network such as ESPN decided to telecast the game, a Blackhawk fan could purchase HawkVision, a subscription network worth $29.99 per month. Then, you could watch the ESPN broadcast of Blackhawks vs. Red Wings at the United Center on normal cable television.
It was pretty confusing to be sure, and as you know, the Internet wasn’t big back then. If you were a big hockey fan and wanted to know about the Blackhawks, you either had to go to the game or wait for the hockey highlight on SportsCenter. Even then, hockey coverage wasn’t big on ESPN, so it was in your best interest to purchase a ticket at the UC.
So the fans kept supporting the Blackhawks even though they couldn’t watch their favorite team on TV. However, the product on the ice wasn’t so great.
As if it were a curse from the hockey gods, the Hawks kept finding different ways to choke in the playoffs. An Original 6 team, the ‘Hawks were at one time the second-most cursed Original Six franchise. The New York Rangers went title-less from 1940 until 1994, and the ‘Hawks now find themselves in the same place as the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs and the Hawks have not hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup since the 1960s decade.
For the ‘Hawks, it’s been even worse. They haven’t won it all since 1961, and before that, Chicago went 23 years without hoisting the Cup. The Maple Leafs have been a borderline disaster since 1967, but at least the Leafs were a dynasty in the 60s. The Hawks were lucky to even win the 1961 Stanley Cup.
So yeah, the Hawks have pretty much been mediocre or worse since 1961. However, there were moments when the franchise seemed destined for championship glory.
The worst moment for Chicago hockey fans was the 1971 Stanley Cup Final against the hated Montreal Canadiens.
Without air conditioning at old Chicago Stadium, the Hawks were the home team during Game 7 of the Finals against the Canadiens.
Jumping out to an early 2-0 lead, legendary netminder Tony Esposito couldn’t stop Jacques Lemaire’s (JOCK luh-MARE’s) 60-foot-away snapshot, giving the Canadiens their first goal of the contest. Chicago Tribune writer Bob Verdi said there was a “humid haze hung over the ice,” but Esposito refused to blame the rink’s lack of air conditioning on the soft goal he gave up. He had a point since Lemaire’s shot was nearly from the center line.
The Canadiens never looked back and scored twice more to upset the ‘Hawks and win 3-2 on Chicago’s home ice.
Since then, the Hawks have never been closer to winning the Cup as they were that day in 1971….That is until tonight, anyway.
As painful as it was in 1971, ‘Hawks fans who were still alive in 1992 have to be devastated at what happened next to Ed Belfour and Dominik Hasek (HAH-sheck)
Incredibly, Eddie “The Eagle” Belfour and Dominick “The Dominator” Hasek were BOTH on the Blackhawks at the same time. Two future Hall of Fame goalies were both on the Hawks and yet the franchise STILL couldn’t win a Stanley Cup with EITHER netminder.
Belfour was the starter during the brief Belfour-Hasek years. The Hawks made the 1992 Stanley Cup championship round with Belfour and Hasek both on the roster. It was also a Chicago team with Chris Chelios leading the defensemen, and forward Jeremy Roenick was on this Hawks team as well. Led by captain Dirk Graham, the Hawks went on a very impressive winning streak in the playoffs. After falling to a 2-1 series deficit to the St. Louis Blues, the Hawks won their next three games against the Blues, as well as back-to-back series sweeps against the Detroit Red Wings and the Edmonton Oilers.
Just like that, eleven consecutive victories saw the Blackhawks four wins away from ending up as the last team standing.
The only team in their proverbial way? The NHL’s version of the Super Mario Brothers, otherwise known as Mario Lemieux (luh-MEW) and Jarmoir Jagr (YAHR-mere YAH-gurr).
The Pittsburgh Penguins were the defending Cup champions, and after narrowly beating the Washington Capitals in Game 7 during Round 1, the Pens found their way in the Finals thanks to winning 8 of their last 10 games.
Hasek was probably Chicago’s better goalie entering the playoffs as the Dominator earned All-Rookie honors and went 10-4-1 during his 15 starts between the pipes. Between a contract holdout from Belfour and Crazy Eddie missing games this season due to personal reasons, Hasek was turning into a fan favorite while Belfour was the more controversial choice in net.
However, head coach and general manager Mike Keenan stuck with Belfour throughout the playoffs, and he turned out to be the best goaltender in the postseason not named Tom Barrasso (buh-RASS-oh). The problem is Barrasso plays for Pittsburgh, so it was up to Roenick and company to find consistent offense against the Eastern Conference’s best goalie.
It looked like the ‘Hawks had the Pens right where they wanted them when they took a 4-1 lead during Game 1.
But the hockey gods haven't liked Chicago since 1961, and whenever the ‘Hawks can blow a postseason lead during crunch time, they like to do it. The Pens scored four unanswered goals on their home ice, including the game-winner with just 13 seconds left in OT. A crushing 5-4 loss for the ‘Hawks and they never rebounded from it. It was a sweep for the Pens as Penguins celebrated their championship victory at Chcago Stadium.
Hasek even showed during the series that he had still had his raw rookie moments, but Belfour clearly wasn’t himself. Hasek subbed in for Belfour in Game 4 after Eddie the Eagle gave up 2 goals on just 4 shots on goal.
Keenan had a tough decision to make between keeping Hasek and Belfour, but with Belfour one year removed from winning the Vezina (VEH-zi-nuh) and Williams M. Jennings trophies for best goalie, Keenan had no choice but to allow Hasek to become expendable.
The Sabres then cashed in on the young goalie’s athleticism by fleecing the ‘Hawks with a terrible trade request. The Sabres received a future Hall of Famer in Hasek and the Blackhawks received just future draft considerations and a goalie in Stephane Beauregard who never played a single minute in the goalie crease. The future draft considerations eventually led to the ‘Hawks drafting Eric Daze (DAH-zay) in the fourth round. Daze became an all-star left winger, but serious back and herniated disc issues saw the team’s promising winger limited to just 74 games in three seasons after his All-Star Game appearance in 2002. He retired after playing just one game in 2005.
That being said, Keenan didn’t want there to be a locker room controversy between Hasek and Belfour, and it’s easy to say in hindsight when no one knew how great Hasek would become.
Unfortunately, Balfour wouldn’t finish his career in Chicago. The ‘Hawks were worried that he wouldn’t re-sign with the team, so they shipped him off to San Jose for three players I personally never heard of until I googled them: Ulf Dahlen, Michal Sykora, and Chris Terreri. Terreri was put in the very tough position of trying to fill Belfour’s shoes in net, and he never got close to reaching Belfour’s milestone achievements.
Blackhawk fans kept asking themselves, is this team cursed? The 1999 Stanley Cup Final pitted Belfour against Hasek as the Dallas Stars took on the Buffalo Sabres. Belfour eventually won the Cup over Hasek in this series, although Hasek won more Cups than the Eagle once he began playing for the Red Wings.
The Blackhawks managed just one Western Conference Finals appearance with Belfour in net, and they wouldn’t get back to the Western Conference Finals until last season.
No one ever wishes for someone to die, but success seemed to reach the Blackhawks once Bill Wirtz passed away from complications of cancer on September 26, 2007
His son, Rocky Wirtz, took over the team, and during their first season with Rocky as the CEO, the ‘Hawks finished above .500 for the first time in 6 years.
With John McDonaugh as the President and Joel Quenneville as the head coach, the Hawks made it back to the playoffs and finished in the Final Four. The Red Wings once again got in their way and easily took care of the ‘Hawks 4 games to 1 during the 2009 Western Conference Finals.
Entering the 2009-2010 season, the ‘Hawks decided they needed a veteran forward who could score goals and match up against the biggest rival, the Detroit Red Wings. Losing to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final the previous season as a member of the Penguins, Marian Hossa signed with the Blackhawks, giving the ‘Hawks a formidable 1-2-3 punch on Line 1 of Patrick Kane-Jonathan Toews (TAY-vs)-Marian Hossa….That is, if they ever needed to use all 3 guys on the power play.
The ‘Hawks were a tough team to beat in 2010, and they finished just 1 point shy of the Western Conference-leading Sharks. But the ‘Hawks were the better team in the Western Conference Finals and swept the Sharks to make it to the Stanley Cup Final.
Their opponent was an unlikely one: The Philadelphia Flyers.
Entering the playoffs as a 7-seed, the Flyers had little title aspirations. But after the top-seeded Capitals were stunned in Round 1 to the 8-seeded Canadiens, there was new hope in Philly.
The Flyers looked dead in the water when they trailed 3 games to zero in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. But Simon Gagne (GAHN-yay) returned for Game 4, and they definitely needed him as Gagne scored in overtime to force a Game 5.
Brian Boucher (BOO-shay) was excellent as the Flyers starting goalie during Game 5, but he had to leave the game early due to knee injuries. As such, Michael Leighton (LAY-tin) finished off Game 5 as the Flyers new goalie and preserved the 4-nothing shutout.
Leighton then got the start in Game 6, as expected, and he made the most of his opportunity by being perfect through 59 minutes until the Boston Bruins scored late. It was still a 2-1 win for the Flyers, and wouldn’t you know it, the Flyers had a chance to win Game 7 and come back from an insurmountable 3-nothing deficit.
The Bruins actually led 3-zero in Game 7 at the TD Garden in Boston, but they simply couldn’t avoid a significantly embarrassing collapse. James van Riemsdyk (REEMS-dyke), who didn’t score a single goal in the playoffs prior to tonight, netted a very important goal late in the first period to give his teammates new life and ending the shutout attempt.
The Flyers then scored 3 more unanswered goals to win a surprising 4-3 Game 7 over the Bruins, becoming just the third team in NHL history to come back from a 3-zero series deficit. In fact, this had only been done once in any other American professional sport besides hockey: The Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Yankees 4 games to 3 during the 2004 American League Championship Series.
And now the Flyers are back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1997, looking for their first championship since 1975.
The 1997 Stanley Cup Final was very interesting since it pitted the Flyers against the Red Wings, with both teams being in the Eastern Time Zone. The Flyers got swept in that series, with fans questioning if the franchise made the right decision all those years ago when they traded for Former No. 1 overall draft pick Eric Lindros (LIN-draws).
Lindros scored just once in that series against the Red Wings, and it cost the Flyers a lot just to acquire him. They sent the Quebec Nordiques (nor-DEEKS) 6 players, 2 first-round picks, and $15 million in cash for only Lindros. The Nordiques eventually moved to Colorado, with the future Hall of Famer in Forsberg helping the Colorado Avalanche win 2 Stanley Cup titles.
What did Lindros contribute? Just one goal in his lone Stanley Cup Final, and his constant bad luck of suffering concussions (he suffered four during his career in Philly) inevitably led to him being traded to the New York Rangers.
The Lindros trade was a huge gamble for the Flyers, and it cost them much-needed role players they probably could’ve used during their playoff runs in the late 90s and early 2000s. However, the Flyers probably wouldn't have made it to the Finals without Lindros in the lineup, so there’s a lot of give-and-take when debating if Philly should’ve traded for the future Hall of Famer.
In a weird twist of fate, the Rangers tried to trade for Lindros, which would’ve included goalie Mike Richter. Richter was huge down the stretch for the Rangers during the 1994 Stanley Cup Final, so Rangers fans are probably very happy that the trade with Philly was finalized prior to the Rangers calling up the Nordiques.
But the Flyers are finally back in the Stanley Cup Final, in large part due to the Flyers getting defenseman Chris Pronger in a blockbuster deal with Anaheim. It cost Philly 2 players and 2 first-round picks. History tells us that the Flyers love sacrificing the future for winning now, but this time around, it has paid its dividends in a big way.
Pronger’s 14 playoff assists have allowed the Flyers to be one goal away from forcing a Game 7 in Chicago, their closest to a title in 35 years. The trade was definitely an immediate success.
Leighton’s 3 shutouts in the Eastern Conference Finals proved that he deserves to be in the league. But is he a franchise goalie? Not so much.
One of the reasons that the Blackhawks are a goal away from the title is Leighton can’t recreate his magic from the previous round. In fact, Boucher (BOO-shay) relieved him in Game 2 and Game 5 due to erratic play, but head coach Peter Laviolette (lah-VEE-oh-let) decided to stick with Leighton in this pivotal Game 6.
And to be honest, the Flyers felt comfortable about tonight. Both of their wins in the series were at home, and with the ‘Hawks being led by two players under the age of 25, they don’t have a lot of experience in this pressure situation.
It’s up to former No. 1 overall draft pick Patrick Kane and Captain Toews to finish off the Flyers. Otherwise, it’s back to Chicago for a win-or-go-home Game 7, and Blackhawk fans know all too well how that panned out back in ‘71.
All of the pressure is really on the Hawks to close out Philly. They brought in Hossa to be that veteran leader when crap starts to hit the fan come playoff time. And he’s been very meh in the series.
The star of the series has arguably been the former Flyer in Patrick Sharp, who entered tonight’s overtime session of 4 goals, 2 assists, and a +/- of +7.
Sharp knows all too well how much this Blackhawks team has stunk over the years, as he joined the team during the 2006 season.
And with the Flyers scoring late in the third period thanks to the active stick of Scottie Hartnell, the Flyers can sense a late series collapse because their opponents are so young and inexperienced.
But here we go. It’s playoff hockey at its best. Tied at 3 in overtime, one team can force a Game 7 while another can win its first title in almost 50 years.
Can the Flyers force a Game 7 and remind their fans of Broad Street Bullies who won back-to-back Cups in the 1970s?
Or will the Blackhawks finally appease the hockey gods and give their fans a much-deserved championship?
It’s golden goal format, and Patrick Kane has the puck deep in the Flyers end. Welcome to a moment in history.
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