When you stop and look at the historical scope of the NHL, it's amazing how two of the dominant clubs in the 2010's are a 1967 expansion side that took over 20 years to even begin to gain relevancy, and the Original Six's island of misfit toys.
There was a time when the Chicago Blackhawks had won the Stanley Cup as many times as the Montreal Canadiens, and had held the title more than the Toronto Maple Leafs. The year was 1938 and the Hawks claimed the championship despite finishing with a losing record (14-25-9), the league's worst offense, and second worst defense. They won a pair of best of three series after dropping game one against favored Canadiens and New York Americans teams before dispatching the Maple Leafs 3-1 despite not having starting goalie Mike Karakas for the first two games of the Final. From then on it was seasons of non-playoff qualification before they won the Cup again in 1961, and after that became a team that could make the playoffs and occasionally put together a run, but never get the job done.
It makes what Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Patrick Sharp all the more impressive. The only other stretch of consistent postseason qualification and advancement like it in Hawks history is from 1960-61 to 64-65 when they made the Stanley Cup Final three times in five seasons with the one win. That this group has done that and more in a 30 team league, with twice the amount of playoff wins needed to be title winners is nothing short of remarkable.
It's pretty astounding to think that Andrew Cogliano put up more points (24-26-50) in his sophomore, and final, season of college hockey at the University of Michigan than Toews did the same 2006-07 season in his sophomore, and also last, year at the University of North Dakota (18-28-46). Also telling is Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman has said he believes Toews is better than he ever was, especially when one considers the only comparable scoring numbers are in playoff runs as well as in Yzerman's final eight regular seasons where the Detroit captain was a less than point per game player. One can totally see the comparison though, and how Toews is the natural evolution: Yzerman had to be molded in to a two-way center by Scotty Bowman to become a winner, while that has been Toews' strong suit from the start.
Pairing a played like Toews with Kane is almost unfair, and the Wonder Twins combination gave the Ducks fits in the final two games of the series. To go from a pair of goals through the first five games of the series, then put up a goal and assist in game six and three helpers in game seven as Kane did is the ultimate in coming through when it counts. Hossa is another player that has undergone a perceptual shift in his time since leaving Atlanta- no longer the huge points producer, instead a clutch two way player. People have problems with using 'clutch' as a descriptor because it's hard to quantify what it means, but having six of 18 playoff goals with the Hawks go for game winners seems to be a pretty good indicator; percentage-wise it's better than either Toews or Kane.
Finally, it's about time people stopped acting like Corey Crawford is merely along for the ride and recognize that he too is an important piece of this Chicago team that's been so good for so many seasons. Before the series against the Ducks I highlighted his 12-1 record in elimination games with a .930 save percentage in those contests, as well as a 4-0 mark at United Center with Hawks trailing in a series and a .942 SV% in those games. Against Anaheim he was 2-0 facing elimination with a .929 SV%, and won both the games where Chicago were trailing in the series at home, stopping at a .928 clip. Say what you will about his whole playoff numbers being right around the league average, but there's something to be said for when Crawford has his best games.
As someone who grew up watching the Jeremy Roenick-Tony Amonte-Chris Chelios-Ed Belfour Blackhawks turn in to the Alexei Zhamnov-Eric Daze-Boris Mironov-Jocelyn Thibault teams with a revolving door of others like Sergei Krivokrasov, Steve Sullivan, Stephane Quintal, Mark Bell, Phil Housley and Jon Klemm, the culture change with Rocky Wirtz taking the ownership helm with the passing of his father in 2007 is amazing. It's still incredibly weird to think that a team as old as the Blackhawks are right now in the midst the most successful period in franchise history.
A Stanley Cup win this year cements Chicago as the team of the post wipeout lockout era, and would move them clear of the Oilers into fourth most championships all time with the Boston Bruins. Los Angeles may have one fewer title in the time frame, but has significantly fewer deep playoff runs. The New York Rangers would become far and away little brother of the Original Six franchises with just four claims to the Cup. And for a franchise that so long had to fall back on stories of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Keith Magnuson, the tales they'll tell of Toews, Kane and Keith will be all the more rich.