While my partner on this blog, Iain, is a longtime Flyers fan and would be in no hurry to join me in this sentiment, I want to take a second to congratulate the Chicago Blackhawks on their Stanley Cup win. But this is a Flames blog, so rather than dwell on what a young, skilled, exciting team they have in the Windy City and all the things they did right to earn their first championship in 49 years, I want to give my Flames some of the credit for the Hawks’ success.
How so? Cast your memory back to Oct. 12, 2009.
The Flames rolled into Chicago that night having put up a solid start to the young season – 4-1 in their first five games against weak-to-middling competition - and were looking to see how they measured up against their first top-tier opponent. The Hawks, among the pre-season favourites to win the Stanley Cup, had come out of the gate slowly, with just one regulation win in four starts, and had hardly looked like Cup contenders in the process.
In fact, it was the Flames that looked like the world-beaters in the first 11 minutes of the game, blasting the Hawks with five unanswered goals. It looked like it was going to be a Calgary blowout.
As it turned out, though, that wasn’t the case – and the result helped define the season for both teams.
Antti Neimi took over for Cristobal Huet. Chicago, rather than caving or panicking, stuck to its game and outworked the Flames to get back in the game. The Hawks eventually tied it late in the third period, and won it in overtime.
Chicago learned what it was capable of that night. It learned just how much it was capable of overcoming, against what at the time appeared to be a pretty good opponent. And they realized that, at their best, they were a formidable force, capable of explosive scoring outbursts when needed. Those lessons, and the confidence they instilled, came in handy throughout the season and the playoffs, time and time again.
For Calgary, though, that loss – plus a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Hawks five weeks later – helped convince the Flames to make an all-out commitment to defence, which ultimately produced one of the stingiest goals-against records in the league. Unfortunately, this commitment also starved the team of offence, an Achilles heal that cost it a playoff berth.
So, Chicago, you’re welcome. Maybe next season, you can come to the Saddledome and return the favour.