Over the last few years, with the Blackhawks bringing up the rear of the Central Division and the United Center crowd becoming more corporate, the Madhouse on Madison has calmed and lost its once great atmosphere. However, ask anyone who frequently attended Hawks playoffs games during the run of dominance and they’ll all tell you: “No building rocked quite like the United Center.”
Now sure, Chicago Stadium across the street could beat it as legend will tell you, but for modern-day stadiums lined with your finest luxury suite boxes, the United Center used to shake. Goosebumps used to stay on your arms from the National Anthem all the way until the final horn.
The Blackhawks quickly became rockstars in Chicago. I attended the first Blackhawks playoff game of the dynasty to become vs. Calgary in 2009, and that was the moment I fell in love with hockey. After the pre-game video montage, every light went out in the stadium and white words appeared on the jumbotron: “Hockey never left Chicago” *Flash out* “But it certainly has returned.” The crowd went ballistic. A shiver went down my spine. You could feel what this meant to Hawks fans. It was only the start, and while the team brought it every night, so did the fans.
While that game was remarkable and it was one of the best sports atmospheres I’d witnessed, this is not the game to talk about. If you ask anyone when the United Center got its loudest, there’s only one answer. There was a build-up to this. From the start of the National Anthem, Hawks fans brought it. The players matched the energy and on this night, officially entering rockstar status in Chicago.
May 11, 2009: WCSF – Game 6 vs. Vancouver
Speaking of people who bring it every single night, how about Jim Cornelison? There’s was a hint of celebration in the United Center air this Monday night, as the Blackhawks were one win away from a trip to the Western Conference Final. However, it was more than that. It was a chance to send home a team that the Blackhawks and their fans had come to hate.
Sports rivalries have started to die off a little bit. They still exist, but it’s mostly fan-driven today. Players don’t hate each other anymore. But boy oh boy, the Canucks and Blackhawks hated one another. These two teams seemed destined to meet in the playoffs the entire season. Two months prior, all the bad blood these teams had built up boiled over.
Mayhem on Madison. Dustin Byfuglien knocked Roberto Luongo to the ground. Ben Eager body-slammed Kevin Bieksa moments after dropping him with a left hook. Alex Burrows had a fist full of Duncan Keith’s hair. Brent Seabrook was playing bouncer on the ice and keeping Canucks from killing Adam Burish. And all while Burish didn’t throw one punch, he was surrounded by officials and the first one ejected. He must have said something pretty good.
This is where the bad blood truly started to come full circle. So as we fast forward back to the playoffs, this game meant a lot to Hawks fans. Vancouver had the experience. They were favored. The Hawks weren’t even supposed to be here. However, they had a chance to silence the critics and send their arch-rivals packing back to Stanley Cup-less Vancouver.
This game quickly became the ultimate roller coaster ride. Mason Raymond opened the scoring 11 minutes in, as he beat Nikolai Khabibulin blocker side through a Ryan Kesler screen. However, as the theme would become, no lead was safe. Not even for a minute. Patrick Kane rifled one past the glove of Roberto Luongo to tie it less than two minutes later. Kane was about to have something of an okay night.
As radio play-by-play announcer John Wiedeman likes to say, “the UC was up for grabs” after a pair of power play goals by Kris Versteeg and Jonathan Toews. The Hawks were up two, but it didn’t last long as Daniel Sedin and Shane O’Brien sent the game to the third period tied 3-3. The third period turned into one of the craziest, loudest, and most fun 20 minutes in Blackhawks’ history.
Vancouver jumped back out in front early on in the period, as Mats Sundin gave the Canucks a 4-3 advantage just as a Chicago penalty expired. That would be Sundin’s last NHL goal. However, as Blackhawks fans came to know in the years following 2009, the Hawks always responded. This time, it was public enemy number one in Vancouver.
Just two minutes after Vancouver had taken the lead, Patrick Sharp stripped Kevin Bieksa of the puck to Luongo’s right, centered to the ultimate instigator in Adam Burish, and Burish tied the game. In typical Adam Burish fashion, while the winger scored right in front of the Vancouver net, Burish skated all the way in front of the Vancouver bench to celebrate. Talk about salt in the wound. Burish never stopped stirring the pot.
After the two teams traded goals to begin the period, they went the next seven minutes scoreless. Nikolai Khabibulin made a flurry of saves (yes, saves were made in this game) to stop a Vancouver barrage, as they were out-shooting the Blackhawks 12-4 midway through the third period. Things grew worse for the Blackhawks as Troy Brouwer took a goaltender interference penalty with just under eight minutes remaining.
Daniel Sedin wasted no time, as he scored six seconds into the Vancouver power play. The Canucks had the lead late. Would that be enough to hold up? Not quite. The Vancouver lead lasted 45 seconds after the puck bounced over not one, but two Vancouver defensemen’s sticks, found Patrick Kane’s stick behind the net, and Kane snuck it past Luongo for his second tally of the night.
Moments later, Shane O’Brien took a hooking penalty to send the Blackhawks to the power play. As Gene Honda was still announcing Kane’s goal, Jonathan Toews tried to feed Patrick Sharp. However, the puck deflected off of Alexander Edler and went into the Vancouver net. In under 50 seconds, the Hawks had turned a one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead. Toews’ power play tally made the Madhouse go mad.
With Vancouver now being down late, they began an all-out press. Their defensemen were getting more involved in their offensive zone. The Blackhawks held off the press for three minutes. With a defenseman pinching in the Blackhawks defensive zone, the puck found its way to center ice. Patrick Kane picked it up and was one on one with Shane O’Brien.
This was the moment. It is the moment that can still give Blackhawks fans chills. It’s the moment that likely still plays over and over again in Roberto’s Luongo’s nightmares. Kane was loose from center ice. He crossed the Canuck blue line. As he brought the puck toward the net, Kane took the puck from his forehand to his backhand between O’Brien’s stick blade and skates, and in one motion, roofed a backhander past Roberto Luongo. The Blackhawks had a late two-goal lead and Patrick Kane, at just 20 years old, had a signature moment as he had netted a hat trick en route to the Western Conference Final.
With the biggest goal of his life (at that point), Patrick Kane sent the United Center into hysteria. Like a midwestern tornado, Kane blew the roof off the barn. There weren’t enough shovels in Chicago to scoop all the hats and rally towels off the ice. The glass was shaking. Ears were ringing. That building hadn’t experienced noise like that since Michael Jordan. Hockey was back in Chicago.
The final three minutes were pure celebration for the Blackhawks fans in attendance. Nobody was sitting as the clock ticked down. Vancouver made a push, but the “Bulin Wall” stood tall. The only scare came as Daniel Sedin led a 2-on-1 in on Khabibulin with Alex Burrows opposite him. Who would you rather have defending a 2-on-1 than Brent Seabrook?
Seabrook closed on Sedin, stopped the cross pass, and in the same motion put Borrows on his ass. The United Center, for about the 100th time of the night, went nuts. As the final ten seconds ticked away, the fans were going nuts. The glass around the ice was rocking back and forth. It was deafening inside the Madhouse. Dave Bolland flipped the puck up to the United Center rafters, the horn sounded and for the first time since 1995, the Blackhawks were heading to the Western Conference Final.
The crowd was alive. From the start of the anthem all the way to the final horn, the Blackhawks fans brought it. You couldn’t hear yourself think inside that arena. However, this extended well past the horn. The fans went nuts through the handshake line. They screamed through the team salute at center ice. The stadium shook during the Three Stars announcement. Nobody wanted to leave. As the Blackhawks saluted the crowd, Pat Foley couldn’t help but bring it up. “Nobody has left!” he pointed out.
The final horn had sounded. The handshake line was finished. The center ice salute was finished. The Three Stars had been announced. Every single one of the 22,687 fans were still in their seats. Patrick Kane was addressing the crowd while Pat Boyle interviewed him. The fans were chanting “Detroit Sucks” through Kane’s post-game interview. As Pat Boyle alluded to, the Blackhawks had officially entered rockstar status in Chicago, and Patrick Kane was Mick Jagger.
If you fast forward to the 3:30 minute mark of the above video, you can listen to the crowd absolutely lose its mind as Gene Honda announces Patrick Kane as the number one star of the game. Kane did a victory lap and waved the crowd on. The place erupted. Kane couldn’t help but acknowledge it in his interview.
“I think this crowd has been unbelievable for us all season… they came prepared tonight and so did we,” Kane exclaimed. Hockey was officially back in Chicago. The Blackhawks had quickly turned from a franchise that was ranked the worst in sports just six years prior to the most exciting team in the NHL. They were back and Chicago couldn’t get enough.
That season might not have ended how everyone wanted. The Hawks fans were asking for Detroit to be the opponent in the Conference Final, as they chanted “Detroit Sucks” through Kane’s interview, and that’s exactly what they got. Detroit eliminated the Blackhawks in five games, but everyone knew this was the start of something special. 2009 might have ended prematurely, but on that night in Chicago, the Blackhawks woke up a long-suffering fan base, and the fans roared through the night.