Monday, May 24, 2010

Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks

This sets up a fairly interesting Stanley Cup Playoffs:

In his first game as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, against the New York Rangers in an Original 6 matchup, Patrick Sharp looked around cavernous United Center and that's what he saw. Six.

Actually there were some 9,000 in the building that distant night, although that figure might have been a matter of creative arithmetic. In any case, a depressed Sharp had come from a first-place team in Philadelphia to a city where the Blackhawks couldn't get arrested.

(These were the pre-Patrick Kane taxi-in-Buffalo days.)

"It's been a big change, that's for sure," said Sharp, who arrived in December 2005, back in the bad old days of the late owner, Dollar Bill Wirtz. "Years ago I would have never expected this turnaround so quickly. It means a lot to everybody, but especially to guys like (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook) and myself, who have been here through some pretty tough years ... I challenge anyone to find a better place to play in the league right now than Chicago."

"I just remember the first handful of games I played at home, it was pretty ugly still," said captain Jonathan Toews, who started in 2007-08. "Our people have done a great job promoting the team, but nothing is better than having a team that wins games and plays an entertaining style of hockey." Chicago has come all the way back to the Stanley Cup final, a testament to the enlightened ownership of Wirtz's son Rocky, Joel Quenneville's coaching and one of the NHL's deepest teams. The Blackhawks moved into the final with a 4-2 victory in Game 4 over the valiant, but outmanned, San Jose Sharks to complete a sweep. The final will start Saturday here if the Philadelphia Flyers eliminate Montreal on Monday, enough time to fit Keith, a Norris Trophy finalist, for seven new teeth and further amp up the city in which hockey used to feel like a root canal just five years ago.

What hockey needs is a bit of parity, and I think they're beginning to find it. Once the teams are putting quality product on the ice, and once the quality of the games starts to really take off, the league has to find a way to be seen on television in the United States and around the world. Someone has to break through and show people that it really is the greatest of all sports, bar none.

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