Whatever happens the rest of this week, Blackhawk fans will have stories to tell for the rest of their lives. It’s really amazing to think how far this organization has come in just three years. It wasn’t so long ago that being a Blackhawk fan basically meant you were a masochistic bastard who got enjoyment out of being repeatedly kicked in the crotch.
And did we ever get kicked in the crotch.
So with that, what better time than now to take a look back and re-live the five worst losses for the Blackhawks in the 21st century before Rocky Wirtz took over. I mean, these have suddenly become the golden years. I can just picture it now: Bob and I bouncing our grandchildren on our laps (we plan on adopting a few dozen children from the nether regions of the globe. Think of us as the Brangelina of the Blackhawk blogosphere.) spinning yarns about the ABC line and how Tuomo Ruutu was once considered a cross between Scott Stevens and Peter Forsberg.
In the following games I’m about to mention, one of them nearly pushed me to the brink of never watching, cheering, or caring about the Blackhawks ever again. It won’t be hard to figure out which one.
5. October 21, 2006- St. Louis Blues 4, Blackhawks 3— The Hawks score two goals within 13 seconds of each other in the first period from Rene Bourque and Radim Vrbata only to give up 3 unanswered goals to the Blues. Of course, Michael Handzus ties it, then blows out his knee in the third period, effectively ending his season and the Blackhawks in the process. For good measure, the Blues score three minutes into the third to win it. Good God, Reed Low was a member of the Blackhawks just four years ago.
The big one from this one, though, was losing Handzus. For the first time in five years, the Hawks had a legitimate top line with Martin Havlat and Handzus. That lasted a whole five games. Trent Yawney destroyed Havlat by playing him well over 23 minutes in 5 of the first 6 games of the season. (!!) Havlat predictably broke down by game seven of the season; Handzus was done at game eight, and so were the rest of the Hawks.
4. December 29, 2006– Boston Bruins 5, Blackhawks 3– Bob and I had the pleasure of attending this gem dandy of a game. Nikolai Khabibulin didn’t make it out of the first period; Adrian Aucoin didn’t have a shift after the 10 minute mark of the second period, and the immortal Dennis Arkhipov was the Hawks number one center.
Anyways, Boston scored three times in the first. Twice because the Bulin Wall collapsed and once because Adrian Aucoin was completely pantsed at his own blue line by future Hall-of-Famer Mark Mowers . By the way, they were also a combined $11 million (approximately) cap hit at the time. Screw you, Brian Campbell!!!!
Patrice Bergeron scored in the second to extend the lead to four.
Just seconds into the third, Patrick Sharp fights Andrew Alberts, of all people. You may remember Alberts skating for Vancouver this year. Sharp fights the oversized Alberts to a draw even landing a few punches. Anywho, this magically kicks Martin Havlat and company into gear. Before Sharp gets out of the box, the score is 4-3. With 14 minutes left, there is no doubt the Hawks are going to tie this game.
The Hawks get a ridiculous amount of chances to tie the game but when the likes of Jeff Hamilton and Michael Holmqvist are shooting, your odds aren’t good. Hamilton has the best chance to tie it late when he receives a sick pass from Havlat. With the whole net to shoot at, Hamilton somehow hits Tim Thomas and the Bruins come down and score an empty netter to end it.
3. April 23, 2002– St. Louis Blues 1, Blackhawks 0– Another game Bob and I were in attendance for. This time it was Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. Bob makes the drive up from Bloomington; I drive in from Champaign and on a school night no less.
The Hawks stunned St. Louis in Game 1 when Alexander Karpovtsev scores with just over a minute left in regulation giving Hawk fans the false hope of, at the least, a genuine playoff series. The vaunted Blackhawk attack, though, had no answer for Blues goalie Brent Johnson. Johnson shut them out in Game 2 and Game 3. With Game 4 a must-win for the Hawks on home-ice, they come out flying in the opening minutes. The United Center crowd and Hawks thought Steve Sullivan finally solved Johnson at the end of the first but it was determined the puck never crossed the goal line.
After a less than inspiring Game 3 from Jocelyn Thibault, Brian Sutter turns to Steve Passmore in net. He of the .895 career save percentage. Passmore actually holds his own in net and gives the Hawks a fighting chance.
Pavol Demitra snipes one past Passmore near the end of the second period to give the Blues all they’d need. On the ice for the Hawks at the time of the goal, Steve Thomas and Tom Fitzgerald centered by Igor Korolev with Potsy and Steve Poapst on defense. That makes Nick Boynton and Brent Sopel look like Nick Lidstrom and Jesus H. Christ in comparison.
The Hawks go three straight playoff games without scoring a goal and though they put up an admirable fight in Game 5, it was all in vain.
Actually, the highlight of this game was a massive brawl that broke in the 300 section towards the end of the game that saw fans rolling down multiple rows and haymakers coming from every direction.
2. January 20, 2003– Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Blackhawks 1– On January 18th, the Blachawks were 21-16-8-3 (remember those goofy record lines?) and looking to repeat on their playoff appearance from the previous season. Then, Theoren Fleury and Phil Housley decide to check out a Columbus strip club the night before their game. Fleury, under a watchful eye of the NHL’s Substance Abuse Program at the time, gets drunk, high and lord only knows what else before getting his ass beat by the bouncers of the club.
Fleury somehow avoids suspension from the league, but the damage has already been done. The Hawks find out about it, try covering it up from the media, and then get their asses handed to them by Columbus. Meanwhile, everyone’s trying to figure out why Fleury has a black eye and skated with a protective visor.
Brian Sutter pulls Michael Leighton after two periods because he gives up two goals. (Who said the Sutters’ couldn’t develop young goalies???) Thibault gets rocked in the third and the Hawks season is cooked. They go 9-17-5-3 the rest of the season and somehow miss the playoffs.
1. December 23, 2005– Detroit Red Wings 3, Blackhawks 2 (OT)- This is the one. Coming out of the year lockout, Dale Tallon built his team up to compete in the old NHL by acquiring Aucoin, Jassen Cullimore, Matthew Barnaby, and Curtis Brown. Meanwhile, the rest of the league figures out the clutch-and-grab specialists are about to become dinosaurs.
So the Hawks blow and blow pretty bad. The Red Wings roll into town just before Christmas already 13 games over the .500 mark.
Now, back in the old days, we Hawk fans weren’t privy to watching every home game on television but every once in a while, we got thrown a bone, and this was one of those special nights.
The Hawks play, by far, their best game of the year. They outskate, outhit, and outplay the Red Wings for 59 minutes. With a 2-0 lead and the UC faithful proudly bellowing, “DETROIT SUCKS!!”, it looks like- maybe- the Hawks might turn their season around.
Oh cruel, cruel world.
The Wings score twice in the final 45 seconds to send the game to overtime.
Then, for good measure, in the overtime, the Wings score, literally, in the final second to win the game. I’ll never forget the sound of the 10,000 or so Red Wing fans in attendance that night. It sounded like a mix of cheering and laughter. It was one of the most awful sounds I’d ever heard and I very nearly gave it all up that night.
Thankfully, and probably mercifully, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane arrived in the next two seasons. Rocky Wirtz took over, and the rest, as they say, is history.