|Photo by Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks
As the Blackhawks strode down the red carpet, a tradition unlike any other, not a cloud could be found above on a shiny fall afternoon. That nicely framed the festive mood, because for this team this season, the sky is the limit.
Revved up by EDM – which, I am told, stands for electronic dance music – hundreds of fans gathered along Madison Street, where the only traffic for a brief spell Saturday was to be limousines containing Chicago’s beloved boys of winter.
John Wiedeman, the popular play-by-play radio voice who needs no introduction, introduced himself, anyway. He welcomed all to the home opener, predicted another Stanley Cup, then identified each player as he left his ride. Brent Seabrook, normally the last Blackhawk to hit the ice before each period, was first to walk the walk.
They all followed, regulars and newcomers and the four Hall of Fame ambassadors – Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito and Denis Savard. We always hear from the enlightened executive branch of its anxiety that an entire generation was lost when the franchise disappeared from local radar not long ago. But it is staggering, how so many adolescent folks did so much catching up so rapidly. For instance, kids who never saw "The Golden Jet" play except on those largely black-and-white film clips wear his sweater as proudly as they honor present heroes such as Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane.
The latter brought a number of family and friends in from his hometown of Buffalo. They were treated to the full pregame video spectacular, including a feature wherein the rink became a screen, enabling the Blackhawks to appear larger than life. How large? When Coach Joel Quenneville got top billing, his mustache stretched from one blue line to the other blue line.
For the edification of his entourage and 22,012 fans – the 278th consecutive United Center sellout – Kane produced the winner as the Blackhawks raked the Sabres 6-2. His goal wasn’t as crazy creative as his shootout score in Dallas Thursday night. Just a blast in the sixth minute of the third period, assisted by linemates Brandon Saad – who had three helpers – and Andrew Shaw, who apparently has his own ideas about who shall be the Blackhawks’ No. 2 center.
Kane’s tally was followed by a shorthanded score from Marian Hossa, who is doing the Benjamin Button thing: getting younger as the years pile up. Then Patrick Sharp made it 5-2, and Daniel Carcillo capped an energized performance with the nightcap. Corey Crawford did not have to steal two points as he did against the Stars, but he did foil a solo by Nicolas Deslauriers when it still mattered.
That kept the score at 2-2 in the second period, after a strange first period. The Blackhawks, as wired as the crowd, beat Jhonas Enroth twice in less time than it takes to boil an egg – Shaw clicked at 59 seconds and Duncan Keith at 2:52. It surely felt that the Blackhawks would be able to pick a number by which they would abuse the Sabres, who are young and have some maturing to do.
But they did sting the Blackhawks twice, including one while shorthanded late in the opening session, and when Super Bowl XX quarterback Jim McMahon of the Bears showed up to shoot the puck after 40 minutes, it was anybody’s game. He went 0-for-3, received serial ovations and then presumably watched the home team do what is expected: win almost every night because, to repeat, the sky is the limit.
Despite a Western Conference that is well-stocked with genuine contenders, Sports Illustrated picked the Blackhawks to win it all via a one-sentence streamer atop a recent cover. Whether this qualifies for the so-called SI cover jinx is debatable, not that the Blackhawks qualify as even remotely vulnerable. They were on the cover twice en route to their 2013 Stanley Cup conquest, and again a third time after they won it.
At least a couple oddsmaking emporiums – there are more than two – in Las Vegas have listed the Blackhawks as 6-1 favorites to win the Cup. USA Today has given them the nod, as has ESPN hockey guru Barry Melrose, who predicts the Blackhawks will beat the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final and then the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
There is – or was – a "Curse of Muldoon" that haunted the Blackhawks for decades. There is no "Curse of Melrose," is there?