The Chicago Blackhawks may be advancing to a conference final for the first time since 1995, but history is irrelevant with this youthful group. They are living in the moment and part of a renaissance that is nothing short of spectacular.
What Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, the Killer B's -- as in David Bolland, Dustin Byfuglien and Troy Brouwer -- and the rest of this upstart lineup have accomplished has little to do with Hall, Hull, Mikita and Esposito. Unless, of course, you count that they've made those former Blackhawks relevant again, just as they've done with hockey in Chicago.
Not that this group is pondering the magnitude of their rapid rise to prominence. They're just kids enjoying the ride. And what a rollercoaster they've ridden.
Game 6 against Vancouver served as a microcosm for their run to date. The Blackhawks roared out to a 3-1 lead only to see it vanish by the end of the second period. Then they found themselves trailing by a goal on two separate occasions in the third against a desperate team facing elimination. Still, the kids from Chicago kept coming. In the end, Kane completed his first NHL hat trick -- how's that for a showman's sense of timing? -- captain Toews counted twice, and Calder nominee Kris Versteeg also scored.
Can you be simultaneously precocious and purposeful? The group is answering yes. They trailed in every single game in the series against vaunted netminder Roberto Luongo. They were mere minutes away from a 3-1 series deficit before scoring late in regulation in Game Four and early in overtime to turn the tide in the series. This team is more about riding the wave, though, than it is about predictable forces. Nothing seems outside their reach.
Is it a reach, however, to see this team in the Stanley Cup Final?
Kane is healthy after an ankle sprain slowed him in the second half of the regular season. His quickness and darting capabilities are back in full force, as evidenced by his Game 6 performance for the ages. Beyond the goal scoring, though, the Blackhawks have shown a resilient nature and the ability to win in a variety of ways. As a group, they push back when pushed physically. On the blueline, they have the mobility that teams covet in today's game. Plus, the Blackhawks have veteran goaltender Nik Khabibulin backing them up. For all of their youthful ways, they have experience where it's needed most.
So, the journey continues -- from a team that made a coaching change on Oct. 16 -- two weeks into the season. They signed goaltender Cristobal Huet only to settle on incumbent Khabibulin. Their other flashy signing was defenseman Brian Campbell, brought in to add to the attack from the back end. When he scored his first playoff goal in the Game 6 clincher of the first-round series against Calgary, it was his first tally since Jan. 8. Yet, rearguards Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Cam Barker flourished, and as a group the Blackhawks "D" has produced six playoff goals and 27 assists, with Campbell posting 2-7-9 totals.
Even when things didn't go according to plan, they worked out nicely. Yes, it is all coming together in Chicago -- and with that, these Blackhawks are proving that anything is possible.