CHICAGO – The date was April 12, 1938 and it was the last day of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Shows you how long the postseason party goes on these days.
And it’s the last time the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup on home ice. Did they even parade the Cup around after the game 77 years ago? Well, we know for a fact they will if the Hawks beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the United Center on Monday night.
Chicago leads this airtight series, three games to two, and the fans are certainly going to be poised to get the party started all day long. There’s been nothing like this in the Windy City since Michael Jordan’s Bulls.
(His Airness, by the way, leaps in bronze these days outside the arena known as “the Madhouse on Madison” – resplendent in a red Jonathan Toews sweater.)
The ’38 final ended with a 4-1 win by the Hawks over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Chicago Stadium, then just a 9-year-old barn. Chicago won the series, three games to one, in what was a best-of-five format. This year’s version of the Hawks, of course, has endured a two-month march to 16 wins. They’re at 15, with one to go.
An aside here: Forget about the game or the potential excitement of the final foghorn. What in the world is the scene going to be like Monday during the national anthem? Crazy.
“Obviously there’s a lot of buzz, a lot of excitement, a lot of things going on around the entire event,” Toews, one of five Hawks made available to the media, said here Sunday. “I think we’re just going to do our best as individuals to focus on our job as players and focus on the game and nothing more.”
“It’s not just another game, but that’s the way we got to try to approach it,” added defenseman Brent Seabrook.
Veteran Brad Richards, who came on board after last season for exactly this moment, won a Cup for Tampa Bay in 2004 as a 24-year-old but hasn’t been this close since. He’s impressed by the demeanor of the Hawks’ dressing room.
“The more you do it, the more you get addicted to it,” Richards said. “You’re comfortable in those situations. When I got to win it in Tampa the first time, we were a bunch of young kids not really having a clue what we were doing. This group feels a lot more like they’ve been through it. There doesn’t have to be a lot of speeches, reminders. The core group has kind of all done it together, they’ve grown up together.”
When the Hawks won their first Cup in 49 years on Patrick Kane’s overtime goal in 2010, it came in Philadelphia. When they pulled a stunning two-goals-in-17-seconds outburst to win another Cup late in Game Six two years ago, that came in Boston. They did not have a chance at a home clincher in either series. Same in 1961, when they captured the Cup in Game Six at the Olympia in Detroit.
A home celebration has been rare of late in the NHL. The only team to hoist the Cup in front of its faithful the last seven springs is the Los Angeles Kings, who beat both New Jersey in 2012 and the New York Rangers last year in Staples Center.
The 2008 Red Wings, 2009 Penguins and 2011 Bruins joined the Hawks’ two teams as Cup winners on the road.
Chicago fans haven’t celebrated a title at home since the Bulls’ fifth one of the ’90s, Game Six against the Utah Jazz on June 13, 1997, two days after Jordan’s memorable “Flu Game” virtuoso act in Salt Lake City. Only two of the six were in the United Center, with one at the old Stadium and the other three on the road.
The Bears’ magical title in Super Bowl XX in 1985 came in New Orleans. The World Series win by the White Sox in 2005, their first one since 1917, took place in Houston. We don’t need to bring the Cubs into this discussion.
So given all that, folks here are pretty startled when you consider it’s been 18 years between celebrations. (No pity, of course, from people in places like Buffalo or Cleveland).
The Cup was last awarded here at the Stadium on June 1, 1992, after the Pittsburgh Penguins won their second straight title by completing a four-game sweep. Remember the relatively unknown Hawks goaltender who took the loss that night? A 27-year-old Dominik Hasek, who was traded to the Sabres about two months later.
The Hawks had a glorious chance to win one here in 1971, but dropped Game Seven to Montreal, 3-2, on a third-period goal by Henri Richard. It was a devastating loss, given that the Hawks won the first two games of the series on home ice and couldn’t beat a Montreal team with aging stars and a rookie goalie in Ken Dryden.
From this view, Game Six of this series might have the same kind of aura witnessed at Game Six of the 2013 World Series in Fenway Park. The Boston Red Sox had given their long-suffering fans two titles, just like the Hawks, in 2004 and 2007 but both of those had been on the road.
The Sox had not wrapped one up at home since 1918 and the 95-year wait was worth it for them. When Koji Uehara struck out the last St. Louis hitter, there was a roar that carried through the stands unlike any I had heard in the couple dozen trips I had previously made to baseball’s oldest park. That’s the kind of scene that would be repeated here.
Still, you certainly can’t count out the Lightning, not the way they’ve played on the road in these playoffs. They’re somehow just 6-7 at home in the postseason – after going an NHL-best 32-8-1 there during the regular season. But they’re 8-4 on the road.
“They’re going to try to hang around, be in the game, have a lead,” Richards said. “As the game goes, that’s how they’ll start building. We can’t lose focus on how patient we have to be, how smart we have to be with the puck. It’s still a great hockey team. … I’m sure it’s going to be another tight game. As that goes, they’re going to get more and more belief. Our job is to try to take that belief away.”