By Doug Halberstadt
It was Sunday evening when I wrote this column and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks had just lost their final game of the regular season to the Detroit Red Wings 4-3.
Their postseason hopes were on very thin ice.
Chicago needed the Minnesota Wild to beat the Dallas Stars or at least take them into a shootout in St. Paul in order to make the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
The Hawks needed at least one point in Sunday’s game to pick up the seventh seed in the playoffs. Their loss left them only hoping to make the playoffs.
The Wild beat Dallas 5-3 Sunday, giving Chicago a chance to defend their crown.
Had the Stars beat the Wild in regulation or overtime, they would have earned a first-round date against Vancouver and the Blackhawks would have become the fifth team in NHL history to win a Stanley Cup one year and fail to make the playoffs the following season.
Had the Stars won in a shootout, the Hawks would have clinched the eighth seed because they would finished with one more non-shootout win than Dallas.
The 1967-68 Maple Leafs, 1969-70 Canadiens, 1995-96 Devils and 2006-07 Hurricanes are the only teams to fail to make the playoffs the season after winning the Cup.
“I can’t even believe we’re here right now,” Hawks captain Jonathon Toews said Sunday. “It’s so frustrating that it has to come down to this. I’m pretty much speechless.”
“We’ll be watching with our fingers crossed and rooting like crazy,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. He went on to add, “It’s a rotten spot (to be in) with your fingers crossed, rooting for your season.”
Had the ‘Hawks not have clinched a playoff spot, they would have had to look back at 14 specific games this season when they had a lead or were at least tied going into the third period and yet failed to pick up even a point.
It happened 11 times before the All-Star break and seven of those games were at home.
After finishing their Stanley Cup season with 62 home-ice points, the Blackhawks earned just 48 points on home ice with a 24-17 record this year.
In the post game interview, Toews summed it all up: “A lot of times I sit here and answer your questions after losses and it’s easy to describe what may have went wrong, but when it’s the culmination of an 82 game season and you’re sitting here in this situation after working so hard for such a long season with the group we have, it’s unreal to be here.”
The entire Blackhawks club and all of their fans were nervously awaiting the outcome of the Sunday night game.
I’m sure coach Quenneville wasn’t the only one with his fingers crossed.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.