I really thought this was our year.
There wasn't anybody in the West that I thought the Ducks couldn't beat. The one team I might have been somewhat concerned about was Chicago, but with Patrick Kane expected to be sidelined until the Western Final and a second round matchup against the Minnesota Wild (who I really thought had a good chance to take the Hawks out this year), that worry was diminished somewhat, and they had their work cut out for them to even make it that far.
But then they just had to go and muck everything up.
Not only did Kane return for Game 1 of your Quarterfinal matchup against the Nashville Predators, he and his supporting cast came into Anaheim with a full head of steam after totally annihilating a team that was hellbent on avenging the last two postseasons, and looked to be in good position to do so. Like the team that fell before us, we were faced with a less than flattering streak that we didn't want to see extended to a third year, ours being a Game 7 loss at home, and our team ultimately failed as well.
Hopefully the cause of the salty undertones behind these words are understood, but within them is a sense of astonishment at what the Blackhawks accomplished during this run of theirs. Not only was Kane not supposed to be ready until the beginning of the series against Anaheim, he was responsible for seven goals and six assists in the period of time when he was still supposed to be on the IR, including a five goal streak in the four game sweep of Minnesota to bring him into the Western Final. Stating the obvious here, but the guy's a remarkable talent, to say the least.
Furthermore, this series against an angry Minnesota team was supposed to be tough. After getting eliminated by Chicago in five and six games, respectively, over the last two years, the Wild went out and got themselves a solution to their biggest problem: their goalie issue. From a wins/losses standpoint, they were the best team in the NHL ever since finding that missing puzzle piece in Devan Dubnyk in January. They knocked off the number two seed St. Louis Blues in six games to set up the third consecutive matchup between these two upper Midwest rivals. And this time, Wild fans and players alike were certain that this was the year they finally dealt the Blackhawks their comeuppance. Instead, Chicago delivered a thorough curb-stomping to the red and green, and the series that was supposed to be the closest yet between the two teams ended up as the most lopsided.
Staying composed after going down 3-2 in any series isn't easy, but the Hawks made it look routine. Most importantly, they easily took advantage of a Ducks team that's never been as prepared for a Game 7 as they always claim in the last few years, and a lot of that serenity in the last two games, from my perspective anyway, comes from Captain Jonathan Toews. When his team lost Game 5, after he almost helped his team steal a win by potting two ridiculous goals in the dying minutes to send the game to overtime, Captain Serious's demeanor, which has become slightly calmer lately, led by example to keep his team afloat. He beat Frederik Andersen twice in quick succession again in the decisive Game 7, and a team who he described as being their best when their margin of error is "perilously thin", lived up to their leader's words.
Now, the Blackhawks can cement their place as the best hockey team of this generation if they can defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning for their third Stanley Cup in the last six years. Even with a loss, Chicago's recent mastery of the West cannot be ignored. Since 2009, the Hawks take their three Conference championships and add another two years in which they made it to the Western Final before bowing out (2009, 2014). This team has a great legacy that they've added to, regardless of the outcome of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.
It was an incredibly exciting series between your team and ours, one that I kind of wish I didn't have a horse in the race for so I could have enjoyed it without the emotional roller coaster it put all of us through. However, you have my congratulations Chicago, on a very hard-fought win. Best of luck against the Lightning, and I hope to see a rematch with you guys in the playoffs next year!