Chicago Style: Inside the Reign of the Blackhawks

*This was originally published on Black Press’s B.C. network

It’s never surprising but its somehow still shocking, the way the Blackhawks continue to win and win and roll. And maybe that’s why, after seven straight seasons of the same, teams are still caught napping late and too often. Maybe that’s why the rope-a-dope still works on teams like the Lightning or the Ducks or the old Canucks and occasionally the Kings – all good teams, or else they wouldn’t be in Chicago’s way, but not even George Foreman would have fallen for Ali’s trick a second time. He may not have had the ability to beat him, but he wouldn’t have imploded.

But over and over, this particular Chicago run has continued to shock me. But why? I wasn’t surprised in 2009 when they beat a thought-to-be better, old, experience Canucks team – the thought after that series should have been the projection, that those Hawks were too young to know they’re supposed to lose. I wasn’t surprised two years later when they not only climbed back from an 0-3 hole against those same Canucks, the Presidents’ Trophy winners, but tied Game 7 with a shorthanded goal with seconds remaining. I was more surprised they’d fallen behind to begin with – the climb seemed inevitable.

I wasn’t surprised when the Hawks leap-frogged the Bruins for the Cup in 2013. But I’m shocked now, that despite nearly a decade of the most consistent, most energetic, somehow endless excellent hockey, Chicago is as strong on their seventh wind as they were on their first.

They look like Meryl Streep winning another statue, still shocked she was even nominated. Nobody else in the room is, but Meryl is. Or maybe she’s really that good an actress.

In Game 1, the script unfolded yet again – as it always has, as it maybe always will. For this foreseeable future, at least.

Tampa stormed Corey Crawford early, perhaps thinking they were still playing the Rangers. They got an early goal and it was a beauty – a dream deflection by Alex Killorn, batted in on a one-in-100 try for goal. Crawford made clutch saves in clumps from that point on – his definers a bit of slot robbery on Steven Stamkos, then a breakaway pad save on a charging Ryan Callahan. Tampa had two chances to put the game out of reach, while Ben Bishop did his best to pretend the Hawks weren’t closing in. His glove hand was calm and confident, just the way they need the their towering goaltender to play.

But it was obvious what was happening, that the Lightning were fading away and the ice was slowly tilting back the other way. Perhaps Chicago wouldn’t win this night, I thought, but they might win in the morning – there’s no way they wouldn’t tie it and then score the winner, whether it was before midnight or after. Like a snake swallowing its prey, the Hawks will take as long as they have to, but they’ll finish the job.

And then, BANG. Teuvo Teravainen shot had eyes, clipping the mesh behind Bishop on a long, hard liner from the point. Then, BANG. Antoine Vermette, with the flood gates wide open, got it off from the slot and beat Bishop up high. How does a 6’7″ goalie get beat up high? Because this is Sparta.

I suppose we forget that the players on the ice don’t see what we see. They can’t feel the earthquake before it hits. Because I couldn’t believe it that Tampa couldn’t believe it. Their bench was one dropped jaw, one sunken expression after another. As if they hadn’t been paying attention the whole time.

They’re wide awake now, I’d hope. If they’re not, they’ll die in their dream.

VIDEO: Alex Killorn opens the scoring for Tampa Bay (Stanley Cup Final, Game 1)

VIDEO: Teravainen ties the game in the 3rd Period (Stanley Cup Final, Game 1)